A madman ran amok all over San Francisco today, targeting pedestrians with his car and deliberately running them over:
As many as 14 people were injured this afternoon by a motorist who drove around San Francisco running them down before he was arrested, authorities said.
Seven of those injured were in critical condition, police and firefighters said.
Authorities have identified the man who was arrested as Omeed Aziz Popal, who has addresses in Ceres (Stanislaus County) and Fremont.
Authorities said they believe Popal was the same driver who ran over and killed a 55-year-old man walking in a bicycle lane in Fremont, at Fremont Boulevard near Ferry Lane, just after noon. That crash scene is just blocks from Popal’s Fremont address, where he had most recently been living.
Popal was arrested at a Walgreens at Spruce and California streets.
In San Francisco, the attacks began around 1 p.m., but it was unclear in what order:
• Two people, one of them a child, were critically injured around by a sport-utility vehicle 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 and one person was seriously injured at Bush and Buchanan streets, police said. One person suffered minor injuries in an incident at 1850 Fillmore Street.
• Two other people suffered minor injuries when they were hit at Pine at Divisadero streets, and another two were hit and suffered minor injuries at Divisadero and Bush Street.
There is, of course, a substantial likelihood that Popal is just a homicidal maniac of the type that crops up occasionally. On the other hand, it may not be a coincidence that Popal is, apparently, a fairly common Afghani name. (I leapt to this conclusion when a Google search on “Popal” led me to this website, and this one, and this one, and this one, all of which describe estimable and innocent Afghanis who are named “Popal”.) In other words, someone named “Omeed” (a variation on Ahmad?) Aziz Popal is, possibly, Muslim. I’m therefore wondering if we’re going to start hearing more about his motives in a few hours or days. I’ll try to keep on this story (with my memory, that’s more of a wish than a promise) and see if anything turns up.
UPDATE: This may not be Popal’s first run in with traffic problems. In March last year, in the Stanislaus County criminal courts, Popal was a defendant for an unidentified traffic infraction.
UPDATE II: According to SF mayor Gavin Newsom, Popal is a “relatively young man.” In other words, we have a young, probably Muslim, male, who killed one person and attempted to kill more than a dozen others. I know I’m leaping to conclusions, but I see a pattern developing here. I’ll do my mea culpas, of course, when it turns out that he’s a man with a history of mental illness utterly unrelated to religious principles.
UPDATE III: Fremont, which is one of Popal’s addresses, is home to America’s largest Afghan community. [Correction: Apparently since 2001, Fremont has had one of the largest, not the largest, Afghan community in America.]
UPDATE IV: An unidentified cousin claims that Popal, who is indeed Afghani, is delusional and on medications:
Court and property records list Popal’s age as 29 and he is a member of Fremont’s large Afghan community. A woman who identified herself as his cousin said he was having recurring nightmares about someone coming to kill him and had been taking medication.
“He thought the devil was coming to him,” said Zargona Ramish, who went to the family’s home Tuesday afternoon while Popal’s relatives were speaking with police. “He is a very good person. He is not like that. What’s wrong with him?”
UPDATE V: Apparently Popal “‘made some comments‘ to officers as he was arrested….” I wonder what they were? Were they delusional, along the lines of “I am she and she is me and we are both together and the Devil is behind it all and I saw the brilliant moon explode” or were they delusional along the lines of “I hate Israel, and I needed to kill all the Jews?” Incidentally, Little Green Footballs notes that one of the “hits” took place in front of San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center. I’m not ready yet to give too much meaning to that. It looks as if Popal was all over the Laurel Heights neighborhood, and the JCC victim could have been a random moment given the much larger scale of his attack.
UPDATE VI: Michelle Malkin also makes much of the neighborhood’s Jewish character. The fact is, though, while there’s definitely a Jewish block — the JCC, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, etc. — his rampage was wider. Also, the neighborhood is affluent and yuppified but, again, but for that one block, it’s never struck me as a particularly Jewish neighborhood. (Indeed, San Francisco as a whole is an exceptionally un-Jewish City, something I never understood growing up there, until I had the chance to visit Los Angeles and New York.) That doesn’t mean, of course, that Popal didn’t believe the whole area to be Jewish and, on that basis, cast a wide net.
UPDATE VII: Well, I’ve done my work here. The AP story by Juliana Barbassa now controls the wires and will set the tone at least until tomorrow morning. Since I’m living on West Coast time, the likelihood is that the East Coast bloggers will report on any breaking news about Popal’s statements or motivation long before I’ve had the chance to get to my computer.
UPDATE VIII: It’s okay. Everyone can stop worrying. The killer was, in fact, a kind and gentle man who was simply suffering from a bad case of wedding jitters. You doubt me? No, really, that’s what the latest report about him says:
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.
Some of us deal with our jitters with ice cream, some with therapy, some with alcohol, and some with attempted mass murder. It’s all clear to me now.
UPDATE IX: I just watched local coverage. Apparently several witnesses reported that Popal referred to himself as a “terrorist.” The police quickly denied this. Either the police are trying to hide something (why?) or the witnesses are succumbing to mass hysteria. The truth is in there somewhere. This coverage also had the single relative who claimed that Popal was crazy. Apparently he had dreams about the Devil. I’d like to point out, as someone only marginally informed about psychiatric disorders, that it’s my understanding that, if you know it’s a dream and not reality, you’re not delusional.
UPDATE X: This was one of those rare — very rare — mornings where I couldn’t wait to get to the local paper. The SF Chron, though, in its cover article on this story, was resolutely silent about Popal’s background, on the scene statements or motives. The Mercury News, which includes Fremont in its ambit, was more forthcoming. For starters, Popal is indeed a young Muslim male. The same relative I heard on the news yesterday was again quoted as saying he heard voices. This could well be true, in which case this is nothing more than the sad story of a crazy man. As I noted, though, in yesterday’s news report, she kept saying he told her he dreamt about the Devil, which is very different from hearing voices. Other unidentified, unquoted relatives also said “he heard voices.” For the time being, that’s their story and they’re going to stick with it — and, as I said, it could well be true.
(My statcounter is telling me I’ve got lots of visitors, although its shy about attributing them to any specific website. Welcome, all of you.)
UPDATE XI (or, really, editorial comment no. 1): One comment left here accuses me of racism. It’s true, if you define “racism” in this context as meaning a belief that the known perpetrator’s ethnicity and religion need to be examined as part of his conduct. Given the appearance of young Muslim males in so many acts of murder for the last twenty years, it would be a travesty if we were to pretend that this part of the analysis does not exist when we’re trying to determine the man’s motives. I’ll just add that my kind of racism is becoming more prevalent.
UPDATE XII: It turns out that Zarghona Ramish, the cousin whose name keeps popping up now in news stories about the event, because she’s the one who describes Popal’s alleged delusions, may have a history of her own: A Zarghona Ramish is one of the named individuals in a “cease and desist” order describing a pyramid scheme that ran afoul of the California Corporations Commissioner. An unsigned copy of that “cease and desist” order (which may mean it was never formally entered into the system as a legally binding document) can be viewed here. It’s interesting that Ramish may have a fluid relationship with truth in business matters doesn’t necessarily mean she’s being dishonest here, but it’s certainly an interesting tidbit.
UPDATE XIII: Sweetness & Light has excellent coverage, and good links. S&L also noted that another of Popal’s cousins, who has set himself up as a family spokesman, is a LaRouche supporter, but I think that’s neither here nor there (except that it probably doesn’t speak very well of the man’s intelligence).
UPDATE XIV: Back to those “devils” that reportedly plagued Popal. We hear about devils and automatically think of the (we hope) harmless and unwashed lunatic raving on a downtown street corner. That’s because we’re a secular society of associate the Devil with madness. John Updike, of all people, suggests that the prevalence of devils in modern Islamic speak may be a spur to action, and not a sign of madness. I haven’t read Updike’s latest book, Terrorist (in my defense, I can’t stand Updike’s prose), but I did have the pleasure of reading Mark Steyn’s review. In that review, Steyn offers the following:
Perhaps sensing that he hadn’t exactly risen to the occasion [when he wrote about 9/11], Updike has now given us the Big Novel on terrorists, so Big indeed that its title is simply Terrorist. The eponymous terrorist — or “terrorist” — is Ahmad, a high school student in a decrepit New Jersey town called New Prospect, who gets mixed up in a plot to blow up the Lincoln Tunnel. And Updike gets stuck into his protagonist from the opening sentence:
“Devils, Ahmad thinks. These devils seek to take away my God. All day long, at Central High School, girls sway and sneer and expose their soft bodies and alluring hair. Their bare bellies, adorned with shining navel studs and low-down purple tattoos, ask, What else is there to see?”
What else, indeed? It’s doubtful anyone could write “the” novel about Islam today — it is a faith, after all, that can seduce everyone from Ontario welfare deadbeats like Steven Chand to the Prince of Wales. Yet it seems to me Updike has gone awry from the very first word. If Muslims were simply über-devout loners, this whole clash-of-civilizations rigmarole would be a lot easier. But the London Tube bombers were perfectly assimilated: they ate fish ‘n’ chips, loved cricket, sported hideous Brit leisure wear. Updike’s absurdly alienated misfit is a lot less shocking than the video that aired recently on British television of July 7 jihadist Shehzad Tanweer: he’s spouting all the usual suicide-bomber claptrap, but in a Yorkshire accent. Imagine threatening “Death to the Great Satan!” in Cockney or Brooklynese. Or Canadian: “Death to the Great Satan, eh?” That’s far creepier and novelistic than Updike’s opening: it’s someone who appears perfectly normal until he gets in the subway car and self-detonates. As for the revulsion at navel studs, compare Ahmad with Assem Hammoud, recently arrested in a real-life plot to blow up another New York tunnel — the Holland. Mr. Hammoud said he had been ordered by Osama bin Laden to “live the life of a playboy . . . live a life of fun and indulgence.” That way he would avoid detection. Pretty cunning, huh? Just to show how seriously he took his assignment, there was a picture of Assem with three hot babes (all burka-less) on a “mission” in Canada. “I was proud,” declared Mr. Hammoud, “to carry out my orders” — even though they required him to booze it up and bed beautiful infidels all week long. But it’s okay, because he was nailing chicks for Allah. So he gamely put on a brave show of partying like it’s 1999 even though, as a devout Muslim, he’d obviously much rather party like it’s 799.
UPDATE XIII: The current meme is that Popal is mentally disturbed — and I’m sure that, but for a few blips here and there, that’s the story and everyone is sticking with it. However, those who are actually investigating what happened discount mental disability as a motive:
But those involved in the investigation — speaking on condition of anonymity — discount any mental illness, saying the 29-year-old Afghanistan native seemed coherent, unrepentant and claimed that he repeatedly drove at pedestrians because he “just wanted to.”
Well! The rest of the same article is the usual “he was so quiet,” “he was so nice,” “he was stressed about his marriage” stuff. From news stories, one also gets the feeling that mass murderers (or attempted mass murders) are just the nicest people in the world.
UPDATE XIV: I’m still keeping track of Popal’s alleged mental illness. Here’s what his attorney has to say (as summarized in the Mercury News):
Millbrae attorney Majeed Samara said that according to Popal’s father, Popal has not been the same since waking up from a bad dream six months ago.
His family once took Popal, 29, of Fremont, to a Kaiser Permanente facility in Fremont for treatment of his mental health issues, Samara said. He also said Popal disappeared for three days last week without telling anyone where he was going.
These slender facts are a far cry from Ramish’s claim that he’s bonkers completely bonkers (see updates X and XII, above, for details) or from the unattributed statements that he was hospitalized for mental illness. It’s entirely possible that Popal is bonkers and that his family was tentatively moving to help him. It’s also entirely possible that Popal had become radicalized, and that his family, which is probably a nice middle-class, assimilated, non-violent family, was trying to change that too.
Assuming, solely for the sake of argument, that the last scenario is true, the question then becomes whether we, as a society, are going to equate Islamic radicalism with insanity, and pathologize the problem out of existence?
UPDATE XV: More on Popal’s alleged “terrorist” statement. The news story I heard last night really rushed over it, with particular emphasis from the police that terrorism is not suspected. Here’s a story reporting the KTVU news expanded on the “I am a terrorist” statement. I wonder if the issue is going to boil down to one of definition: In journalism and American law enforcement, will terrorism occur when an organized group of at least two people, acting under a known terrorist umbrella (such as Hamas or Al Qaeda or Hezbollah), blows something up? If that’s the case, it will never be terrorism if an individual, taking matters in his own hands, and acting under the banner of Islam, decides to engage in an act of mass murder. (And I’m not saying that’s what Popal did. I’m just saying that this story, like the events in Seattle, and at the Arizona (?) Home Depot, and at the college in the Northeast, all raise this definitional question.)
UPDATE XVI: The Fremont police are seeking a murder charge against Popal for Stephen Jay Wilson’s death. Wilson was 54 when he was murdered.
UPDATE XVII: AP’s latest ignores Popal’s religion altogether. Indeed, only in the last paragraph of the latest story does his ethnicity appear. Even if neither was the cause of his rampage, is there any reason to exclude or downplay into invisibility their existence as facts? The mental angle is being played up strongly, with the fifth paragraph mentioning pschiatric observation. Who knows? Maybe that’s exactly the way the emphasis in the article should be. Maybe he is just a loony who is, coincidentally, a young Muslim male who tried to commit mass murder. And maybe it’s incredibly sad that, after the past couple of years, I so deeply distrust the MSM that I can’t take the article at face value, but automatically assume that it’s written with an intentional slant.
UPDATE XVIII: Here’s the self-appointed family spokesman’s official story: Religion was not the problem; his parents’ decision to keep him socially isolated was the problem (although he did find time to attend San Jose State and Cal State Hayward for several years). He’s a nervy kind of guy, and the wedding stressed him. I don’t know…. It’s not a compelling tale to me.