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Members of Santa Monica synagogue say they know the suspect well

April 9, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A search is under way for a transient man who police say is responsible for an explosion outside a Santa Monica synagogue.

The blast went off Thursday outside the Chabad House Lubavitch of Santa Monica on 17th Street. Police initially pegged the incident as an industrial accident but later determined the explosion was the result of a pipe bomb.

Authorities are now combing the area for 60-year-old Ron Hirsch, described as a transient known to spend time at synagogues and Jewish community centers seeking charity.

Police said he constructed the bomb by filling a pipe with some kind of explosive and setting it in concrete inside a trash can.

The 300-pound projectile went shooting into the sky, bounced off the wall of the Jewish center, tore a hole into the roof of a neighboring home and narrowly missed an 11-year-old girl inside.

The owner of that home, Janti Rashiti, and her daughter have since moved out of their residence and have been staying with relatives.

"It's just unbelievable. I don't feel safe having my child over there anymore," said Rashiti.

Authorities did not know what the motive was for the attack.

Hirsch has been linked to homemade explosive devices in the past, officials said.

Members of the Chabad House said they know the suspect well. They said he was a regular visitor looking for handouts but they hadn't seen him for months.

"It's surprising that he would do something like this, though not shocking just because anything can happen with people are aren't stable," Rabbi Eli Levitansky said. "We cannot think of any reason why he would do it."

"There's definitely concern and people are wary, but it's not going to affect the day-to-day activities," he added.

Authorities, including the bomb squad, were called out to West Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon to search an old Ford Mustang thought to belong to the suspect, but it was not his car.

Mike Huante, who lives next to the synagogue, said he recalls seeing Hirsch sleeping under an awning outside of the Jewish center. Huante also said Hirsch would often read the newspaper and talk on his cellphone.

No injuries were reported in the incident. About 100 people were evacuated from nearby homes and businesses while bomb experts investigated.

Police say Hirsch frequented synagogues in the area including one on north La Brea in Los Angeles. However authorities say they are not investigating this as a hate crime.

But some neighbors still question the close proximity of the incident to the Jewish center.

"It makes me a little upset and I don't like that kind of thing happening, particularly if it's related to specific groups," said Santa Monica resident Hilda Weiss.

Hirsch is considered to be extremely dangerous. He is about 5-feet-7 inches tall, weighs 207 pounds with brown hair and green eyes. He also goes by the name Israel Fisher.

Anyone with information regarding this case is asked to call Santa Monica police at (310) 458-8427.