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Lebanese arrested in attack on Jews

Police arrested a 28-year-old Lebanese cab driver with a small arsenal of weapons Wednesday and charged him in the bloody attack on a van packed with Jewish students.

After witnesses helped reconstruct the license plate of the car used in the attack, police seized Rashad Baz at his home in Brooklyn and charged him with 15 counts of attempted murder and four counts of assault as well as weapons possession violations.

Arrested later on charges of hindering prosecution and weapons possession were Hlai Mohammed, 32, and Bassam Reyati, 27, Jordanians living in Brooklyn. They were thought to have helped Baz after the crime in disposing of the guns and the car he used.

Police said it was too early to determine the motive for the attack, which left one young man brain dead and another critically wounded and raised fears that the gunman was retaliating for the massacre of Palestinian worshipers by an extremist Jew last week in the occupied West Bank.

But from the high-powered weapons that were recovered, law enforcement officials surmised the targeting of the van may well have been deliberate.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said members of the city's Arab-American community provided help in the investigation, and the arrest sent a signal: "Our streets are not open to bloodshed."

Detectives who arrested Baz, who entered the United States on a student visa in 1984, recovered a cache of weapons including two 9mm pistols _ the type used to shoot at the van _ a fully loaded shotgun known in the drug trade as a "street sweeper," a semi-automatic rifle, a silencer, a stun gun and a bullet-proof vest.

A blue Chevrolet described by witnesses as the vehicle used in the shooting was recovered in a Brooklyn body shop. Shell casings from the kind of bullets fired at the van were found in the auto, police said.

The car's passenger window was broken, but it was not clear why it had been taken to the body shop.

The white van with 15 Hasidic students wearing the distinctive black hats and long sidelocks of Lubavitch Jews was attacked Tuesday by a man firing two pistols. The students were returning from a Manhattan hospital where hundreds of Lubavitchers visited Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, who had undergone cataract surgery.

Four students were hurt in three separate bursts of gunfire _ on an approach ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge and later mid-span on the bridge.

One victim, Aaron Halberstam, was declared brain dead Wednesday.

President Clinton spoke by telephone with the Halberstam family.

"It is an outrage that this crime, which has overtones of a hate crime, could occur in our American community," Clinton said in a statement.

_ Information from AP was used in this report.

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