Police hunt suspect in blast near Calif. synagogue

LOS ANGELES: Police stepped up patrols at synagogues and other houses of worship in a Los Angeles area Saturday as a suspect in a blast outside a synagogue remained at large.Ron Hirsch, 60, a transient, was linked to Thursday’s explosion near Chabad House Lubavitch of Santa Monica, police spokesman Sgt. Jay Trisler said in a statement.He said police were increasing patrols around religious sites in Santa Monica and neighboring West Hollywood.No one was injured in the blast, which shattered windows and punched a hole in the synagogue, while sending chunks of concrete and a heavy pipe crashing into the roof of a nearby home.Authorities initially thought it was an industrial accident. The FBI said the confusion came from the device’s strange construction — explosives inside hundreds of pounds of concrete and poured into a trashcan.”This is clearly not a traditional type of explosive device,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller told the Los Angeles Times. “Clearly if it were, our investigators would have been able to identify it immediately.”

Hirsch, who was known to spend time at synagogues and Jewish community centers seeking charity, was wanted on state charges of possession of a destructive device and unrelated local charges, Trisler said.Janti Rashti, 59, whose roof was damaged, said that she recognized Hirsch from his photo as the quiet man who sometimes slept by the side of the synagogue.”I just don’t believe it was him,” Rashti said. “The synagogue was never mean to him. I certainly never did anything to him.”Authorities said they knew of no motive behind the explosion, and Jewish groups said they did not believe anti-Semitism was necessarily behind it.About 20 people had been attending a morning prayer service in the synagogue, and they and about 80 others from surrounding houses were evacuated for more than five hours.The FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have joined local agencies in the investigation.