Abdirizak Bihi had just grabbed lunch at the Seward Community Co-op and placed his keys in the ignition when five teens surrounded his SUV. They jumped inside, pepper-sprayed him from behind and forced him out of the vehicle — before peeling away. Bihi was left standing in disbelief.

It marked the first of two back-to-back carjackings in south Minneapolis on Labor Day and continued a rash of such incidents throughout the Twin Cities that police say are often linked to the same few groups. In both encounters Monday, juvenile suspects used chemical irritants to incapacitate their victims.

"It happened so fast," Bihi told the Star Tribune when reached by phone an hour after the attack. "I'm kind of shaken up."

The community organizer recounted how he'd spent the morning discussing the surge in carjackings with his wife, whose own co-workers were recently targeted by thieves. She made him promise to be careful when he dropped her and their children off 30 minutes before he set off for lunch.

Once there, he parked in the corner of the Seward Co-op lot. When he returned to his silver Ford Escape, he noticed a new car without license plates pull into a nearby space. Five teenagers piled out and approached him.

"I didn't suspect anything, especially in broad daylight and in that area," said Bihi, who regularly works with youth as director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center. "One kid told me, 'We're here to collect your car.' "

They demanded his wallet, but Bihi lied and said he left it inside the vehicle. The teens sped off before checking to make sure, allowing him to retain the wallet and his phone. He counts himself lucky that he was uninjured during the altercation.

Bihi immediately filed a police report and caught a ride home with the responding officer. On the way, he noticed flashing lights and later returned to find a crash involving his car outside the Courtyard by Marriott hotel on S. Washington Avenue near Cedar-Riverside.

Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder confirmed that an officer had spotted the stolen vehicle and tried to make a traffic stop, but the motorist fled. After a short pursuit, the teenage driver struck a support column in front of the hotel and was arrested.

About 20 minutes after Bihi reported his car stolen, officers responded to the scene of a nearby assault and carjacking in the area of S. 14th Avenue and E. 18th Street. A woman described a similar attack: Juveniles sprayed her with chemical irritants and stole her vehicle.

Police later found the abandoned car, but no arrests have been made in that case. Authorities believe they may be linked, Elder said.

This summer, the city has been plagued by a string of armed robberies and carjackings — dozens of which are tied to one group. The incidents, which range from purse snatchings to auto theft and robberies, include one episode in July when a father was dragged a short distance as he tried to stop a man from stealing his vehicle with his wife and child inside.

Crime data show that south Minneapolis has borne the brunt of such incidents.

Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648