PHILADELPHIA – Federal officials joined Philadelphia police on Tuesday to announce charges against a suspected leader of a carjacking ring they say was tied to two incidents that turned deadly earlier this month.
Jonathan Akubu, 28, is facing a long list of charges including arson, conspiracy, carjacking, aggravated assault and two counts of murder.
On Friday, Feb. 11 Philadelphia police merged their homicide unit with their carjacking task force. The merge came in response to information possibly linking the Feb. 6 murder of George Briscella to a Feb. 4 carjacking and shooting, as well as a robbery and carjacking that occurred on Feb. 2.
In all three of those incidents, two newer model Toyota RAV4s were taken, as well as one newer Toyota Highlander. Investigators later learned that the same 2021 silver Toyota Camry was believed to have been involved in all three incidents.
Officers on patrol later spotted that Camry, and recorded the tag numbers, providing police with the name of the vehicles owner – Jonathan Akubu.
After another encounter between Akubu and police, investigators tied Briscella’s murder to a robbery and attempted carjacking that occurred on the 8400 block of Lyons Avenue on Jan. 27.
During the Jan. 27 incident, police say the suspects attempted to take a 2022 Toyota Highlander. During the course of the incident, one of the suspects shot the 42-year-old victim in his leg as he attempted to flee.
Police say the department’s Firearms Identification Unit made the link between that shooting and Briscella’s murder through ballistics analysis and comparison.
Early on the morning of Feb. 12, police recovered Briscella’s stolen RAV4. Less than 12 hours later, a 29-year-old Aiah Gbessay was killed on the 8100 block of Grovers Avenue. A 2008 gray Ford Escape parked near Gbessay was found with the engine still running.
Police say the Escape was stolen out Norristown in Dec. 2021.
Shortly after the homicide on Grovers Avenue, police responded to a report of a vehicle fire approximately three blocks away. There, they found a Ford Transit van they believe was intentionally set on fire.
The van was owned by the Gbessay. Police say another ballistics comparison confirmed that the 5.7 caliber cartridge casings found at the scene of Gbessay’s murder matched those from Briscella’s murder and the Lyons Avenue carjacking.
The comparison also confirmed that 40 caliber casings recovered at the Lyons Avenue scene also matched the Feb. 4 carjacking incident in which shots were fired at a 58-year-old woman.
Police obtained an arrest warrant for Akubu, charging him with murder and related offenses in the Gbessay’s murder. Akubu was located in an apartment complex in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania and was taken into custody without incident.
During a search of the apartment, police say they found a 9mm AK-47 style rifle with the serial number obliterated, as well as a 5.7 caliber handgun. Police say the handgun was stolen during an armed carjacking on Dec. 2 at the 7000 block of Greenway Avenue. The victim’s Toyota 2021 Toyota RAV4 was taken, and the victim was shot in the shoulder by the offender.
Investigators say the stolen 5.7 caliber handgun found in Akubu’s apartment was a ballistic match to the weapon used in both deadly shootings, and the Lyons Avenue carjacking.
Philadelphia Police Captain Jason Smith says that while Akubu is in police custody, there are believed to have been several other suspects working with him during the carjackings. Smith says Akubu and his accomplices are also believed to have been involved in several other carjackings inside of Philadelphia, as well as one in King of Prussia and one in Millbourne, Pennsylvania.
Smith said he would call the circumstances in this case a ‘carjacking ring,’ adding that several similar rings are believed to be operating in the city presently.
“That’s why we’re taking this situation so seriously. That’s why Chief Inspector (Frank) Vanore directed to homicide unit to partake,” Smith said. “Just because we cleared the two homicides doesn’t mean we are not going to continue to part of the task force.
Police say the ring appeared to be targeting Toyota vehicles, but police declined to comment on a potential reason those vehicles were targeted.
Akubu has several prior arrests for charges including aggravated assault, robbery, and rape. He additionally has four prior arrests outside of Philadelphia, according to police.
The investigation is active and ongoing.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism