PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A man suspected of being the leader of a carjacking ring has been charged with murder and other counts in connection to two fatal shootings and other incidents in Philadelphia in recent weeks.
Philadelphia police announced Tuesday the arrest of Jonathan Akubu, 28, of Drexel Hill, Pa., in connection to at least three carjackings since the beginning of February.
Investigators said those incidents are still under investigation and more people are likely to face charges, but police officials also said they believe Akubu is connected to other crimes in recent months in both Philadelphia and surrounding counties.
Cpt. Jason Smith with the Philadelphia Police Department's Homicide Unit said during a news conference Tuesday that police believe Akubu is the head of a loosely organized ring of three or more other people in their late teens or early 20s, who have been targeting newer model Toyota SUVs in armed carjackings.
"In this particular ring, it looks like they were primarily targeting Toyota products -- the Rav 4 and Highlander," said Smith.
There has been a sharp increase in carjacking incidents with more than 200 reported so far this year, according to Philadelphia police crime statistics. That's almost seven times more than were reported during the same time frame in 2020.
Smith said police are investigating Akubu's possible involvement in carjackings in other jurisdictions around Philadelphia including Millbourne and King of Prussia.
Police recovered a handgun and an AK-47 style rifle from the Lansdowne apartment where Akubu was arrested over the weekend.
Using ballistic evidence, investigators connected those guns to at least four incidents between late January through Feb. 12, Smith said.
Akubu is charged with multiple counts of assault, theft, robbery, firearms violations and other charges.
He is facing two counts of murder in the Feb. 6 fatal carjacking of 60-year-old Marine Corps veteran George Briscella.
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Akubu is also charged with the Feb. 12 fatal shooting of Aiah Gbessay, whose van was found set ablaze a few blocks from where he was found with three gunshot wounds to the head.
Police said Akubu is also charged in connection with a carjacking on Feb 4.
According to police, a 45-year-old woman was parking her Toyota RAV4 in the 7600 block of Elmwood Avenue when three suspects attempted to grab her bag as she approached her house.
The victim screamed and a male victim from inside the home opened a door. Police said one of the suspects fired a gunshot at the victim, but only hit the door.
The suspects were able to take the keys from the woman and flee in the vehicle.
Police believe Akubu's crew is just one of several rings operating in the city at the present time.
On Tuesday night, Commissioner Danielle Outlaw addressed the rise in carjackings during a town hall hosted by Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson.
"So far this year we see the trend is continuing with an upward trajectory. We've already seen 203 reported incidents as of today," said Outlaw.
Outlaw shared this message to violent criminals in the city: "If you are engaging in violent criminal behavior, we will not rest until you are taken into custody."