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Beating of Chester County man lands suspected vigilante in jail on $1 million bail

Ahmad Wasfi Al-Azzam (Courtesy West Chester Police Department)

WEST CHESTER — A Chester County man who allegedly attacked at least two men in an attempt to get revenge on people he believed to be child predators is being held in the Chester County Jail on $1 million bond. dollars after his arrest for assault, kidnapping and theft earlier. this month.

According to a criminal complaint filed against West Chester police, Ahmad Wasfi Al-Azzam forced his way into the home of an elderly neighborhood resident in May, tied him up, punched him in the face and head with a hammer for an hour and stole his car. keys, telephone and cash.

During the attack, Al-Azzam allegedly filmed the man, then 73, whom he had met on an online chat forum, and forced him to make statements calling him a pedophile, the threatening violence if he did so. not.

Photo courtesy of the West Chester Police Department

Ahmad Wasfi Al-Azzam (Courtesy West Chester Police Department)

Police said Al-Azzam also posted at least six videos of the beating – as well as other incidents that happened that night – in which the man is seen tied hand and foot. At one point, the victim is asked to look at the camera and “apologize for trying to meet a 15-year-old.”

There is no evidence that the man, who is not identified in the affidavit of West Chester Detective Cpl. Jerry Ferriola was a pedophile or engaged in illegal sexual activity with a minor.

Al-Azzam, 26, from Uwchlan, was arrested on June 11 and questioned. At the time, he had become involved in the West Chester assault, according to Ferriola's complaint.

He is charged with kidnapping to facilitate a crime, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, criminal trespass, terroristic threats, possession of an instrument of crime, unlawful restraint, forcible confinement, simple assault, reckless endangerment of others, theft, receiving stolen property and criminal mischief.

Al-Azzam was arraigned by District Judge Marc Leiberman, who set bail at $1 million. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 12. A phone call Friday to Al-Azzam's attorney, Eliot Marc Cohen of Philadelphia, was not immediately returned.

According to Ferriola's complaint, Al-Azzam is suspected of at least two other possible assaults, one unconfirmed in Phoenixville and one confirmed in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. Footage of both incidents was posted on an Instagram account Al-Azzam allegedly maintained, “realjuujika”, and shows a masked man stalking people at night and slapping one person who promises to “never do it again”.

Investigation

The investigation began May 26 when Ferriola and Detective Greg Cugino went to Penn Presbyterian Hospital to interview the West Chester victim, who was being treated for a “cerebral hemorrhage” suffered during an attack at his home. home in the southwest of the district.

During three interviews, the man told police that between May 18 and 22, he had spoken in a chat room with a stranger who told him he was 18 years old.

At one point, this person stated that they were actually only 15 years old and the man stated that he could not continue the conversation. The other person then offered to send him a gift, which the man accepted.

She was told a Lyft driver would soon deliver her a milkshake and two cheeseburgers.

Around 11 p.m. that evening — the man couldn't remember the exact date but investigators believe it was May 20 — someone knocked on his door and as he was about to open it, a person, who was wearing a black mask, forced his door. inside and tied his hands with duct tape.

He hit it with a small hammer for about an hour.

He used a cell phone to record the beating and forced the man to make statements that he was a pedophile. He then searched the house, taking the man's wallet containing cash and credit cards, as well as the keys to his car, which was parked outside.

The man then told him not to call the police because he had “a very fast car.”

When the man went out the next day, he found that three of his car's tires had been slashed. He did not immediately call the police.

The “realjuujika”

In response to a tip, detectives were able to examine videos on Instagram linked to the “realjuujika” account.

Juujika is a Japanese literary character who seeks revenge on those who bullied him. They watched six videos of the attack on the man, as well as others of what was purported to be an attack on a suspected predator in Phoenixville.

When investigators contacted Phoenixville police, they learned the department was investigating an incident involving a self-proclaimed vigilante child predator who was part of an organization called Juujika. The incident in which a man dressed in ninja attire – all black, with a hood – spoke to officers about his work catching men trying to meet young boys was noted by officers as having produced on May 1st.

Phoenixville police were able to identify a car driven by the man and linked it to Wasfi Al-Azzam, the suspect's father. But when they reviewed his files, Wasfi Al-Azzam was too old to be the man they met. They determined that it was instead his son, Ahmad Wasfi Al-Azzam.

Because the Phoenixville man had spoken about an incident he was involved in in New Jersey, borough investigators contacted Mount Laurel police, who confirmed they had an open case involving an assault in the parking lot of a Dick's Sporting Goods.

The suspect in this case was driving the same type of car as the one identified in Phoenixville.

West Chester police were then able to track a Range Rover registered to Wasfi Al-Azzam, using license plate readers, and saw him enter the borough on May 20 around 10:30 a.m.

Then, using West Chester University surveillance cameras, I saw a man get out of a Range Rover and walk toward the victim's home. He left at high speed about 45 minutes later.

On June 10, detectives questioned Al-Azzam at the district police headquarters. In the recorded interviews, Al-Azzam admitted to being the creator and owner of the Instagram account and admitted to possessing items that police found in his home and attached to the beating, including a small hammer.

Although he initially denied having anything to do with the assault on the older man, he eventually admitted that he was the one seen in the videos beating him. He admitted to slashing the tires of the man's car.

No charges have been filed in connection with the Phoenixville incident. Questions about possible charges in New Jersey were not answered after an email was sent.

To contact editor Michael P. Rellahan, call 610-696-1544.

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