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San Fran car rampage ends at Jewish Community Center

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By Michelle Malkin  •  August 29, 2006 10:16 PM

popal.jpg
Omeed Aziz Popal

***scroll for updates…”wedding jitters???”…more helpful Bay Area reader feedback below…a member of the San Fran JCC writes in…Popal’s lawyer: “he’s not all together…”….KTVU: Popal called himself a “terrorist?”***

Omeed Aziz Popal, 29, was arrested for a San Francisco-area hit-and-run spree that killed one and injured 14 others. SF Chronicle reporting:

San Francisco police spokesman Sgt. Neville Gittens said the attacks in the city occurred at 12 locations over a 20-minute period.

“The hits were intentional,” he said, noting that police are treating them as assaults.

Gittens had no information about a possible motive.

Popal was arrested after patrol cars boxed in his black Honda SUV, its windshield and right front headlight smashed, outside a Walgreens store on Spruce Street between California and Mayfair in the Laurel Heights area.

A dental office manager, who identified herself only as Kira, watched from a second-floor window as police dragged the driver out of his vehicle.

“He was absolutely indifferent, no fear, no expression,” she said. “He was like a zombie.”

Architect Jeremy Warms also saw police pull Popal out of the SUV and sit him down on the curb.

“He looked calm and pretty clean-cut, like a normal guy,” Warms said. “He sat on the pavement for a good 25 minutes. I don’t think anyone said anything to him. They put him in a police car and took him away.”

This evening, it was unclear exactly how many people had been injured, and in what order the incidents occurred. The police reported the following injuries:

– Two people, one of them a child, were seriously injured on the 3500 block of California Street in Laurel Heights.

– Three people were hit at California and Fillmore streets. Witnesses said they included a man with a broken hip and a woman with a gashed head.

– Two people were seriously hurt at Bush and Pierce streets.

– One person was seriously injured at Bush and Buchanan streets.

– One person suffered minor injuries in an incident at 1850 Fillmore St.

– Two other people suffered minor injuries when they were hit at Pine at Divisadero streets.

– Two people were hit and suffered minor injuries at Divisadero and Bush streets.

Here’s the part that caught my eye, a detail I haven’t seen noted anywhere else yet (update: LGF noticed, too):

The SUV struck two people in front of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on California Street, a few blocks from where the rampage ended.

Blood covered the sidewalk in front of the center’s gift store entrance, and 50 feet farther down the sidewalk lay a mangled bicycle.

Security cameras in front of the center captured images of the incident, which happened at 1:12 p.m., according to Aaron Rosenthal, spokesman for the community center.

Stay tuned.

***

Jim Hoft notes three people have been taken in for questioning.

Bay Area readers, I have a question: What can you tell us all about the intersections and locations of the vehicular assaults? Is there a large Jewish population in Laurel Heights?

Update:

Reader Chris writes: “The 3500 California St hit was a 1/2 mile from the main Jewish temple, Temple Emanu-El and 41 miles from his starting point in Fremont.”

On the other hand, Kirk K. writes:

I lived in SF and worked very near the Jewish Community Center there, located at Presidio and California.

To say the Presidio (as it’s known) is a “Jewish” area is not quite accurate. It is undoubtedly a very, very wealthy area with $5-to-$20 million homes (or even higher), many giving on views of the main Bay, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate.

The Jewish Community Center is long-established, and was recently rebuilt at its existing site. The roads in SF run East-West and North-South (except for Market, which transects the City at a diagonal). This is only interesting in the sense that going from downtown to the Filmore area to the JCC is a very direct route, with fast one-way streets all but ensuring a quick ride.

Bear in mind that the main section of SF is really just 2-3 miles (the entire City is only 49 square miles, 7×7). It would be natural for anyone driving fast to head West on Pine Street with its timed lights, leading almost directly to the JCC.

Reader Chuck disagrees:

This whole thing went down a block from my apartment and I disagree
with Kirk’s assessment. Three of the incidents appear to have
happened on Bush street, which is a one-way street going west to
east. http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/7050/620/1600/san%20fran%
20map.0.jpg. To me this looks like a methodical, circuitous
expedition ending at the JCC.

Lots of readers sending this record of a traffic case against Popal from 2005:

POPAL OMEED AZIZ D 769792 3/14/2005 TRF I

Update: Bookworm points to latest wire stories repeating relatives’ claim that Popal had wedding jitters:

Relatives of a Fremont man connected to Tuesday’s deadly driving rampage said he may have been distraught after returning recently from Afghanistan without his newlywed wife who iswaiting for a visa.

Omeed Aziz Popal, 29, who sources said was being held by the San Francisco police, was normally a kind and gentle person, said Hamid Nekrawesh, 43, a first cousin in Fremont.

But a recent trip to Afghanistan to participate in an arranged marriage could have caused him a lot of stress, Nekrawesh said.

“He was a very respectful, quiet, nice guy,” Nekrawesh said. “I’ve never seen him do anything violent.”

Zarghona Ramish of San Jose, who also identified herself as Popal’s cousin, said he had been having strange dreams since returning a month ago from Afghanistan.

The Anchoress is incensed by MSM coverage (er, non-coverage):

This is becoming an appalling habit in the press and by politicians. An Islamic fundamentalist shoots Jews in a Synagogue, and it’s some sort of random incident. An Islamic fundamentalist uses his car to kill people in front of a Synagogue, and in what would appear to be a somewhat “Jewish neighborhood” and the press takes a while to cover the story (probably looking for the appropriate “frame,”) until someone in authority can be found to sing out, “ROAD RAGE”! Yeah, that’s the ticket! Road rage! Mayor Newsom sees no problem, here…a “relatively young” person, obviously confused! Yes, that’s the ticket!

Omeed Aziz Popal, the poor confused youngster, is 29 years old.

Can you imagine, if someone had (God forbid!) driven a car into 14 gay people, how quickly the press would have managed to cover the story? Can you imagine that Mayor Newsom would call it “road rage” and suggest that there really probably wasn’t a “hate crime” attached to the action?

What the hell is wrong with the press, what the hell is wrong with the leadership?

***

More Bay Area insight from Gary R:

Just to establish my POV – I am Jewish, grew up back East but have lived in the Bay Area for over 35 years. Most of this time I lived in San Francisco not too far from the SFJCC, though I now live in Mountain View (Silicon Valley). I am strongly pro-Israel and pro-WOT.

Kirk K. is corrects that Pine St. leads to an area near (though NOT directly to) the SFJCC. But I just saw a map of the incidents (pedestrians hit in SF) and clearly Popal did not take a straight path. It seems like he headed west out Pine St., double-backed on Bush St. (a one-way in the other direction) for a few blocks, then headed north tol California, where he turned westbound until he hit the SFJCC and then came to a stop about three blocks later. This is also based on a witness who saw him turn left from Pine onto Divisadero (southbound to Bush St.) and then saw him go by again westbound a few minutes later. A little confusing, I know but he clearly was driving around the neighborhood. This neighborhood, incidentally, does not consist of the fabulously wealthy homes described by Kirk.

Those are on the other side of California St. – San Francisco is a compact, densely populated city and as such the affluence of “neighborhoods” can change dramatically in just a few blocks. The neighborhood where most of the injuries took place used to be mostly black, now is somewhat “yuppified” though not as much as going father north (across California St.). The SFJCC is more-or-less equidistant from both these areas (Presidio Heights and upper Fillmore). Again note that it is a very short distance from the SFJCC to both of these areas.

It is a very interesting question as to why Popal, living in Fremont (very remote from SF), chose to do most of his damage (after already killing someone in Fremont, it must be said) in this neighborhood when he had to drive through 40 miles of heavy freeway traffic and then through several more miles of dense urban traffic in SF to get there.

I was just watching KTVU 10 o’clock news and apparently one of the SF victims was black – in fact the suspect tried to run him down twice.

Jeremiah e-mails:

As other readers have reported to you, the Fillmore and Pine Street locations are modestly affluent, increasingly so in the direction in which the assailant was driving. Several sections of Laurel Heights, where the rampage ended, are especially affluent.

As was told to me about 5 years ago by a friend, Sen. Dianne Feinstein has a residence on Presidio Terrace — the traffic loop just a few yards north of Temple Emanu-El on Arguello Boulevard . (Click once up and once left on the map you provided .) In addition, that person told me that Sen. Feinstein belongs to Emanu-El. If I remember correctly, a wrought-iron gate bookends the entrance to Presidio Terrace, but it’s ornamental — the circle is open to the public to drive around in and gaze at its residences up close. (Of course, the Senator’s exact residence and her temple membership should probably be confirmed, before reporting them as facts.)

As you know by now, Temple Emanu-El is one of San Francisco’s most distinguished synagogues, architecturally and in terms of its populous congregation. fyi, It’s also somewhat left-leaning: witness the hejab-wearing woman joining her hands in Christian-like prayer in the image currently on its website. Three of its six rabbis are women, one ofwhom, Sydney Mintz, I believe is lesbian. At a service I attended there three years ago, a fellow worshipper (who otherwise was a stranger to me) let loose a gratuitous, derisive comment about President Bush. All things considered, it makes perfect sense to me that a desperate and poorly-planned jihad-derived rampage (as this one seems to be) or certainly a desperate and better-planned one would aim for Laurel Heights generally and any of these locations specifically. The JCC and Emanu-El are absolutely San Francisco’s emblems of liberal, affluent and socially productive Jews. Targeting them is a West Coast equivalent of targeting Manhattan’s Temple Emanu-El (in the East 60s) and the 92nd St. Y .

In addition note the following: there is a Mt. Zion Hospital at 1600 Divisadero Street ( Yahoo! Map (red star)), less than a mile from all the Fillmore, Pine, and California Street locations of the rampage.

And from Maria:

What struck me most about the SF Gate article was the following quote:

“I looked right at him, and he looked at me as he busted down the street,” Gowan said. “He was very calm.”

Another witness also described him as “calm.”

So, I’m not buying the jitters story, unless he had some jitters about his terrorist mission.

I also lived for 10 years in SF and worked at the JCC (Jewish Community Center) It borders on Divisidero which is not all that rich at all–mainly working class African Americans. The JCC draws many elderly people.

I think there is way more to this story. I’ll stay tuned.

Greg M. in San Francisco writes:

I’m a daily reader of your blog. I’m a member at the JCCSF, and I was there tonight, well after the unfortunate events. I go to the JCC 5 or 6 times a week – in my opinion, they have the best gym in town, which is why I go there. I saw the photo on sfgate, and went to that spot. I could only really see one tire mark – the scene had been cleaned. Security was much tighter than usual today, as would be expected. The guards there don’t really check bags or frisk people, they just walk around and look serious. But they do check cars that park in the underground lot.

I can’t really say that the neighborhood of the JCC is Jewish, but it is a good neighborhood. There is a temple on Arguello Blvd, very near California Street, which is about 6 blocks from the JCC. I rent an apartment on Arguello near Geary, I wish I could get a condo in Laurel Heights, but I don’t make 7 figures just yet.

I asked an employee about the hit-and-run when I walked in, I said that it was a terrorist act. He said that it wasn’t terrorist, just a crazy man. I agree that it was a crazy man, but when a Muslim man attacks a Jewish organization, it is a terrorist act. A singluar act of jihad is still jihad.

LA Times has some details:

lthough police did not officially identify Popal, they indicated the car involved in the assaults was registered in his name. They also said Popal was reported missing three days ago. One police source reported that Popal told police that he wanted to kill his family. Authorities quickly went to his home in Fremont and found his mother and sisters unharmed.

Police said they were confident the same suspect struck in Fremont and San Francisco. “It sure looks that way. It seems to be the same vehicle and the same method,” said Sgt. Bill Veteran of the Fremont Police Department.

Newsom said the suspect appeared to have no arrest record.

Popal’s driving record, however, shows convictions for six moving violations between 2003 and 2005.

The suspect was trapped in the Laurel Heights neighborhood at the intersection of California and Spruce streets when police boxed in the Honda with their patrol cars. Police said the suspect threw his car into reverse, ramming a squad car and slightly injuring an officer.

Police said they have not been able to trace the exact route the suspect took. But they said many of the neighborhoods that the suspect cut through were upscale areas in the northern part of the city, including Pacific Heights.

Late Tuesday, police were interviewing more than 40 witnesses, trying to piece together the crime.

Reader Mark in SF:

The driver did go through a neighborhood that is a mixed area between the Western Addition, a traditionally black neighborhood (he apparently
did hit one black man walking in the street, though I’m not entirely sure where) and Pacific Heights. He seems to have gone west from there, apparently primarily on Bush Street, which isn’t an exceptionally prominent street, and apparently occasionally turned north or south along Bush Street.

He headed into Laurel Heights, getting on California Street, passing the Jewish Community Center where he went up on a sidewalk and hit two people, and was headed in the direction of Temple Emanuel but was stopped before that. Additional Jewish sites he was near were Mt. Zion Hospital(previously a Jewish Hospital), Jewish Family Services, and a large Jewish mortuary.

None of these areas is anywhere near majority Jewish but there are obviously a fair number of Jewish landmarks where he was. Coincidental? Perhaps, but a map of sites where people were hit seems to indicate that he started hitting people around the corner of Polk and Sacramento Streets. It does not seem to me that there are any prominent avenues leading to that area from his three likely entry points into the city. I also don’t see prominent avenues from that intersection to the area of Jewish landmarks that I described. It doesn’t seem likely to me that he would chance upon the Jewish Community Center, though it is, of course, possible.

I would also imagine that it just happens that the Jewish Community Center is near a number of other Jewish landmarks that somebody living in Fremont would be less likely to know.

I guess that we’ll have to see what the police turn up, but I hope that they will keep their eyes open to all theories.

More from CBS 5 (hat tip reader Jon):

A child suffered from massive head injuries after being struck along California street, police said. The other victims were all between the ages of 18 and 78 years old, according to San Francisco Public Health spokeswoman Eileen Shields.

An FBI agent on his lunch break was also struck by the suspect’s SUV in the vicinity of the Federal Building.

“He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” FBI spokesman Ryan Butler said. The agent suffered “very minor injuries” and was treated and released, Butler said.

One of the three hospitals treating victims was San Francisco General Hospital, where Newsom met with victims and their families.

“These are the things, these are so senseless. They’re utterly inexplicable. They’re impossible to rationalize,” Newsom said afterward. “The fact that this individual felt compelled for whatever reason to be determined to do what he did is beyond imagination.” (Small imagine there, Newsom.)

Popal’s attorney, Majeed Samara, said his client was “mentally ill” but did not elaborate.

“All I can tell you is he’s not all together,” Samara said Tuesday.

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