LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Police have arrested a suspect in the shooting of two worshipers at a southern California synagogue.
Christopher Littlejohn, 37, was taken into custody April 15 in connection with the early-morning shooting last October in the underground garage of the Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic Synagogue in North Hollywood.
A lone gunman shot Maor Ben-Nissan and Allen Lasry in the knees as they arrived for the early minyan.
Littlejohn, of Northridge, Calif., had been arrested last July for pointing a gun at a person in Beverly Hills. He is being held in lieu of $2 million bond in the synagogue shooting.
Police quickly ruled out that the shooting was a hate crime, as the Jewish community initially feared, or terrorism as a motive.
In the months afterward, police hinted that the knee-capping may have been the work of a local Israeli crime ring followiing an interview in The Jerusalem Post with Deputy Chief Michael Downing of the Los Angeles Police Department. Downing, who heads the LAPD’s Counter-Terrorism and Criminal Intelligence Bureau, in Israel on a professional visit.
“The shooting resembled a targeted surgical strike," he was quoted as saying by the Post, adding that "the two men were targeted as part of a stern warning linked to a criminal organization.”
Downing later qualified the statement, however, saying that he had been quoted out of context and had no evidence that organized crime was involved in the shooting.
Organized crime by Israelis in such areas as real estate, fraud, money laundering and narcotics is of growing concern to the LAPD.
In interviews with JTA, Downing and Capt. Greg Hall, who heads the LAPD Major Crimes Division, said that such activities seem to be on the increase, though it is difficult to gauge their full extent.
“Israeli criminals in this city are very sophisticated,” Hall said. “We have to ask ourselves what else is going on that we don’t know about.”
Downing said that his bureau was working closely with the local Jewish community and Israeli police to identify and contain local Israeli criminal elements.
Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic Synagogue has a membership of some 150 families, primarily North African Jews, with a sprinkling of Latino, American and Israeli Jews.