A growing number of drivers working for Uber, Lyft and similar taxi services have been accused of sexually assaulting female passengers.
And many of them have Muslim names.
Two Uber drivers – Hassan Ibrahim, 48, and Salim Salem, 47 – were charged last week in connection with sexual assaults against female college students at Michigan State University, the Detroit Free Press reported.
The two men are accused of using their Uber driver jobs to prey upon college students.
Ibrahim faces one count of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct in connection with a Feb. 14 incident, according to East Lansing police. He turned himself in March 11 after a warrant had been issued for his arrest.
Salem faces two counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct related to a Jan. 16 incident, and he turned himself in Tuesday.
Both were released on $5,000 bail. Salem’s bail includes a condition that he not work as an Uber driver or cab driver in the future.
East Lansing police said in late February they were investigating two drivers who allegedly made unwelcome sexual advances toward female MSU students, the Free Press reported. Multiple women complained of inappropriate touching.
The news comes just days after another Uber driver in California – Omar Mahmoud Mousa, 52, of Anaheim – was charged with raping a woman at an Anaheim motel, as WND reported. Police said they suspect Mousa likely has other victims, and they are asking the public to come forward with information.
Iraqi refugee charged with rape in Connecticut
One of the more horrific cases happened in Connecticut and involved an Iraqi refugee.
Police in Hamden, Connecticut, arrested 29-year-old Ahmad Bahjat of New Haven on Feb. 26, MassLive.com reported.
Investigators say they responded to Yale-New Haven Hospital on Jan. 31 for a report by an alleged victim of sexual assault. The woman had left a New Haven bar and walked to a parking area designated for Uber and taxi drivers, according to police.
Bahjat pretended to be an Uber driver and the woman got into his car, believing he was the Uber driver she requested, police told WTNH News 8.
Police said Bahjat “viciously sexually assaulted” the woman. She bolted from the car, leaving several personal items behind, according to investigators. She suffered injuries to her neck, wrists and knees, police said.
They said they found evidence supporting the woman’s claim after seizing the car.
Police say Bahjat is a 2012 refugee from Iraq and holds a green card. Within 24 hours of the alleged attack, Bahjat fled the United States, taking a flight to Toronto, then to Turkey and on to Jordan. An arrest warrant was issued, officials said.
On Feb. 11, police say U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained Bahjat at JFK International Airport while he was trying to re-enter the country. He was jailed in New York and Hamden Police charged Bahjat with first-degree sexual assault, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree unlawful restraint.
Florida driver climbs into back seat to assault woman
In another incident reported Feb. 12 by News 4 Jacksonville, Ismael Esa allegedly climbed into the back seat of his car and assaulted a female passenger who was seeking a ride home from her boyfriend’s apartment.
Esa got into the back seat, locked the doors and started fondling the woman, who was a student at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. Esa was then accused of stalking his victim, who won a court-ordered injunction against him in January, according to Jacksonville.com.
David Wolf, an attorney representing the Florida woman, said Lyft, like Uber, markets itself as a safe and family friendly service but doesn’t do enough to make sure passengers are safe.
Uber screens potential drivers using a third-party company, which runs automated background checks, according to the company’s policy.
But that’s not enough, says Wolf.
“What we’re seeing prominently is that advertising without any substance behind the advertising,” he told News 4. “You do a simple background check that doesn’t mean a person hasn’t been caught. Where is the supervision? Where is the accountability? Where are the conversations?”
Dallas driver accused of rape
In another case in November 2015, Dallas police arrested a 34-year-old Lyft driver for allegedly raping a female passenger.
Police found Loai Faheem Laila hiding in his brother’s garage, the Dallas Morning News reported. He was being held in the Dallas County Jail on a $1 million bond because a tipster told police that Laila intended to flee the country.
The victim told police she had been at a bar in Dallas and became separated from her friend around 3 a.m. Nov. 7 in the 2900 block of McKinney Avenue.
She told police she ordered a ride from an app-based service, and she was picked up by a man in a black Chevrolet Tahoe.
After a short distance, Laila allegedly began to inappropriately touch the woman. She resisted, and he pulled onto a “dark side street,” where he raped her in the back of the Tahoe, police said in court records.
Local media, cops cover up backgrounds of immigrants
Almost never do the police or local media provide background details on these predator drivers, such as their immigration status or country of origin.
One exception was the case of Philadelphia Uber driver Abdellah Elkaddi. In June last year, Elkaddi was accused of raping a 24-year-old woman who had called for a late-night ride home.
The judge in that case set bail at $1 million, and part of the reason for the high bail was that Elkaddi is a native of Morocco and had been a U.S. citizen for seven years, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Elkaddi, 46, was arrested hours after the woman said he attacked her early June 11, according to Philly.com.
She fell asleep during the drive home, the woman told police. She woke up to Elkaddi groping and mounting her, Philly.com reported.
“Get off of me! What are you doing?” she yelled seven or eight times as he raped her, according to court documents.
Watch accused rapist Abdellah Elkaddi being escorted into jail:
Several states are considering legislation to regulate app-based shuttle services.
A bill in Massachusetts, for example, calls for Uber and Lyft drivers to be fingerprinted and their prints submitted for state and national criminal checks.
But the problem predates the advent of Uber and Lyft.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul area, home to America’s largest Somali refuge community, has had dozens of incidents over the years of Muslim cab drivers being accused of sexually assaulting their female customers.
One of the more high-profile cases involved Abdikadir Yusef Mohamed, a 24-year-old St. Paul cab driver brought to the U.S. from Somalia as a refugee.
According to a 2011 report by CBS Minnesota, Mohamed picked up a 27-year-old woman who called for a cab after finishing work on East 6th St.
The victim told Mohamed she wanted to smoke, and he told her she could only do so if she moved into the front seat of the cab. When she did, he repeatedly reached up her skirt and touched her genital area. When she resisted him and tried to escape, he locked the doors.
He responded by saying, “I know what all you American girls want. Let’s go to a parking lot somewhere.”
He ended up being convicted at trial and sentenced to four months in prison and 10 years probation. The victim said she felt intimidated in the courtroom by the numerous Somali family members who came in support of her attacker, a statement Mohamed’s attorney called “racist,” the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.
In the California case reported last week, police believe there may be more victims, and they are asking for the public’s help in finding them.
Omar Mahmoud Mousa, 52, was arrested on a $100,000 bond and assigned a court date of April 8 to face felony charges of rape, forcible oral copulation and sexual penetration by foreign object. The alleged rape occurred Oct. 25, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, but Mousa had been out of the country until recently. He was arrested March 7 as he disembarked from a plane landing at Los Angeles International Airport.
Authorities were not saying what country he had traveled to or whether he was a native-born American, a naturalized citizen or some other status.
Uber issued a statement that read: “Uber has a zero-tolerance policy for violent behavior, and our thoughts are with the victim of this atrocious crime. We immediately blocked this individual’s access to the Uber platform upon learning of this incident and actively assisted law enforcement in their investigation.”
Prosecutors said Mousa was working as a driver for Uber when he picked up a 21-year-old woman and her female friend at their Anaheim motel room and drove them to a bar in Fullerton, the Orange County Register reported.
Mousa gave the women his business card and told them to call him directly when they planned to leave, rather than going through the Uber app, authorities said.
Several hours later, one of the women called Mousa and he gave them a ride back to their motel, helping them into their room, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said the victim’s friend immediately passed out on the bed, and Mousa placed the victim on the same bed as her friend. The woman was intoxicated, prosecutors said, but told Mousa “no” multiple times as he raped her before she managed to push him away.