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Gunman shoots Hasidic Jews in van; four injured

A van carrying Hasidic Jews home from a hospital visit to their spiritual leader was sprayed with bullets from a car Tuesday. Four people were wounded, two critically.

The motive was unclear. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said there was no hard evidence linking the shooting to Friday's mosque massacre in the occupied West Bank, in which a Jewish settler from Brooklyn killed at least 30 Muslim worshipers.

But "obviously that's something you can't exclude, and the speculation is there," he said.

The Justice Department and the FBI were monitoring the situation.

The gunman shot at least five rounds into the unmarked van carrying 14 to 16 Lubavitch Hasids in distinctive hats and sidecurls, police said. Nine 9mm shell casings were were recovered, and ballistics tests showed that they came from two different weapons, police said.

Police said they had no confirmed description of the attacker. The victims had just visited the 91-year-old leader of the Lubavitcher sect, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson. He had been released after cataract surgery and traveled by a different route.

One of the shooting victims, Aaron Halberstam, 20, had "tremendous brain injury" and his outlook was poor, said Dr. Jesse Blumenthal of St. Vincent's Hospital.

Two other people from the van also were brought to St. Vincent's. One was in critical condition with head wounds; the other was treated and released. A fourth was in stable condition at a Brooklyn hospital.

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