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Omeed Aziz Popal is alleged to have intentionally struck 18 pedestrians with his black Honda Pilot SUV on August 30, 2006, and faces a murder charge and 19 counts of attempted murder.[1][2] Popal was 29 at the time of the attack. Several major news organizations have described his attack in the San Francisco Bay Area as a "rampage".[3]

Attack and the victims

The first person to be attacked, Stephen J. Wilson, 54, was struck in Fremont, California, and died at 11:50 am. Another victim was hospitalized in critical condition.

Popal struck two men at the intersection of Sutter and Steiner Streets in San Francisco. He passed through the intersection again in an attempt to hit the men a second time—and then a third time—before moving on.

A witness said he saw one victim's body "thrown 25 feet." Multiple witnesses and victims said that the driver appeared to be aiming for people, intentionally hitting them.

Other victims included Vera Jenkins, 40; Pedro Aglugov, 70; Leon Stevens, 56; and Susan Rajic, 43.[4][5] One police officer was slightly injured when Popal was apprehended.

Popal remains in custody on charges of murder, attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, battery of a police officer, and evading arrest.[6] If convicted, he faces life in prison.

Popal's case is currently in preliminary hearings in San Francisco. Earlier procedures determined the accused is fit to stand trial for 36 felony counts in San Francisco county, and an additional two in Alameda county.[7] In 2008, a San Francisco judge ruled Popal not guilty by reason of insanity and committed him to a state psychiatric facility; the Fremont murder charge remains pending.[8]

Controversy over police claim of "no terrorism"

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Popal "was terrorizing the neighborhoods near the Western Addition and Pacific Heights",[9] and KTVU reported that a woman at the scene of the arrest heard Popal say "I'm a terrorist, I don't care." A second witness confirmed the first's account.[10][11]

Popal's rampage ended in front of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, where the final two victims were struck.

However, within hours of Popal's arrest, police asserted that there was no evidence of Popal's intent to commit an act of terrorism.

Popal's attorney, Majeed Samara, has described his client as "mentally ill".[12]

The media has noted the similarities between Popal's case and that of Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, an American citizen who intentionally struck nine pedestrians with his SUV on March 3, 2006, and was charged with nine counts of attempted murder. Taheri-azar was 22 at the time of the attack.

Reactions

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called Popal's actions "malicious and hateful". He commended authorities and offered his condolences to the victims and their families. He further said that "[a]cts of hate such as this will not be tolerated in California".[13]

References

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