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Bellevue police investigating another rideshare rape case

(AP)

Bellevue and King County detectives are investigating additional incidents following an attempted sexual assault involving an “off app” rideshare driver.

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KIRO 7 reports that Bellevue police arrested a man on April 18 on suspicion of sexually assaulting a woman in his vehicle. The woman believed his car was a rideshare that she ordered. This is a separate incident than another rideshare-related assault that happened around White Center. In that case, the driver posed as a rideshare driver. In this case, the suspect is an employee of a rideshare company.

Ghassan Shakir, 34, is suspected of committing the assault, among others in the Seattle area. A woman visiting from Arizona allegedly got into Shakir’s car outside a downtown Bellevue bar on Jan. 19. She had ordered a rideshare to take her back to her hotel in Seattle.

The woman assumed Shakir’s car was her ride when he pulled up; it had a rideshare logo on it.

“The unthinkable happened,” said Bellevue’s Assistant Chief of Operations Karl Kleinknecht. “As she was being driven away, she had fallen asleep and was awakened in a somewhat disoriented state. The driver was, in a sexually aggressive manner, groping her while putting handcuffs on her.”

She was able to fight him off and escape. The woman reported the crime, which was forwarded to the Bellevue Police Department.

Shakir was allegedly “off app” at the time of the incident, which means he wasn’t driving people through the rideshare app. Drivers could theoretically offer a ride for cash that way, and they are not tracked via GPS.

“The suspect in this case is an actual employee of the rideshare, but at the time of the incident had turned his app off — in the vernacular of the industry, he was ‘off app,'” Kleinknecht said. “All the safety features, and double checking the credentials of the driver, when you are in an off app situation don’t apply anymore and you really don’t know who it is that is pulling up to the curb and you are surrendering your safety to them.”

“One of the takeaways from this is if a rideshare employee offers an off app for cash, don’t get into the car,” he said. “That’s warning signal number one.”

Kleinknecht said that the suspect was in the area after dropping off another rider. He turned his app off  before picking up the woman. Police have looked at security camera video from downtown Bellevue and spotted his car circling the area with his flashers on — appearing like a driver picking up a rider.

“And he was just trolling the downtown area,” Kleinknecht said. “He had circled the block several times before he pulled up next to the victim from out of state.”

Larger rideshare investigation

The incident led Bellevue police to an ongoing investigation with the King County Sheriff’s Office. Detectives learned that Shakir is suspected of committing similar crimes in SeaTac, Seattle, and Kirkland, dating back to December 2018. Kleinknecht says there are two victims so far in the case, but they are following up on as many as five incidents.

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“There was an actual completed rape and the prosecutor in that case knew the suspect in that case was driving a red Toyota Prius,” Kleinknecht said. “And he believe that was in an ‘off app’ type of situation as well … that’s when our case really focused in on this suspect.”

“Our detective and the King County detective did some follow up in Kirkland last week and were able to obtain a search warrant (for the car) and were able to find handcuffs which were used in our case, and other forensic evidence. And we were able to make an arrest last week.”

Bellevue police are asking anyone with information about the alleged crimes to contact them.

“There could be way more … there could be riders that experienced a really strange type of contact with a ridehsare driver driving a red Prius that didn’t amount to a crime, we would love to hear from them,” Kleinknecht said. “Our call to action for them would be to call their local police department, to take an informational report that could then be sent to the King County Prosecutor’s Office to see how long this particular suspect has been actively trolling as an off app rideshare driver.”

KIRO 7 contributed to this report.

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