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Asian man kidnapped, attempted to sexually assault Asian woman 'because he thought she was white,' police say​

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The crime was allegedly a retaliation for recent hate crimes against Asian Americans

Image Source: Irvine Police Department

Police in Irvine, California, arrested an Asian man last week after he allegedly kidnapped and attempted to sexually assault an Asian woman because he thought she was white. The crime was reportedly a retaliation for recent hate crimes committed against Asian Americans.

Michael Sangbong Rhee, 37, allegedly targeted the woman while she was exiting her vehicle at an apartment complex near Harvard Avenue and Coronado Street about 1:30 p.m. last Thursday, the Irvine Police Department reported in a news release about the incident.

According to police, Rhee approached the woman with what appeared to be a handgun and told her that if she wanted to live, she needed to get back in the vehicle. At that point, the woman allegedly offered Rhee her wallet and money, but then Rhee responded by saying they would "do that later."

He then opened the rear passenger door and pushed her into the backseat of the car. During the struggle, Rhee allegedly committed sexual battery against the woman.

The woman believed she was going to be sexually assaulted or killed and began yelling for help and attempting to escape. She was able to alert a nearby maintenance worker that Rhee was armed, prompting the suspect to flee the scene, running through the apartment complex and back into his vehicle before he sped away.

Police used surveillance camera footage to identify Rhee's license plate and track him to his home in Lake Forest, where they executed a search warrant. During the search, officers reportedly recovered "several items" connecting him to the crime, including a BB-gun similar to the weapon described by the woman.

Rhee was subsequently arrested and booked on the charge of kidnapping with the intent to commit sexual assault and was being held on $1 million bond. He has since been released after posting bond, inmate records indicate.

In the news release, police claimed that Rhee mistakenly believed his victim was white and that he carried out the attack as retaliation for recent violence against Asian Americans.

"Based on the totality of the investigation and statements made by Rhee, detectives believe he targeted the victim because he thought she was white," the report read. "Detectives also believe the assault was retaliation for hate crimes committed against the Asian community."

Hate crime charges are expected to be added to the complaint filed with the Orange County district attorney's office. An investigation is underway.

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