Elias Abuelazam 311.
(photo credit: Channel 10)
A suspected serial killer was captured at the Hartsfield- Jackson Atlanta International Airport Wednesday night as he was about to board a plane to Tel Aviv on an expired Israeli passport.
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The suspect, Elias Abuelazam, is believed to be linked to five deaths and dozens of stabbings in Michigan, Ohio and Virginia – all people chosen apparently at random, though most were African-American.
Abuelazam, a Christian, was born in Ramle, reportedly moved to the US as a child, but made several trips back to the town of his birth where his mother and several uncles live.
His ex-wife Jessica said she was “shocked” to hear about the alleged murders, but “could not say more before I get more details about what happened.”
The attacks began in late spring, and police said they usually followed a pattern: The suspect approached black men late at night on lonely urban roads and asked for directions or help with a broken-down car. Then, without warning, he pulled out a knife and struck. He then sped away, leaving them for dead.
The brazen nature and the frequency of the attacks – the assailant struck an average of about once every four days since the first stabbing in May – has terrified some of those in cities he’s already targeted. The youngest victim was 17; the oldest was 60.
Initially, police did not refer to Abuelazam as a suspect.
“We just want to be absolutely certain that we’re not rushing to judgment on that... He’s certainly a very strong person of interest,” a Leesburg, Virginia, police spokesperson said. “We just want to make sure that the link is 100-percent solidified, to link him to the incidents.”
However, on Thursday morning, a Flint, Michigan, judge issued a warrant charging Abuelazam with assault with intent to murder in a July 27 attack on one Antwione Marshall.
US Customs and Border Protection officials – part of a division of US Homeland Security – arrested Abuelazam Wednesday night during the boarding of Tel Aviv-bound Delta Airlines Flight 152, after his name was seen on the passenger manifest and flagged by law enforcement.
Passengers on that flight said as they arrived in Tel Aviv that Abuelazam had been tense and talking on his cell phone when he was arrested at the boarding gate shortly before takeoff. They said six police officers had led him away without incident.
“He was talking on the phone. I didn’t hear what he said,” said Romi Shaked, who was on the plane. “I just saw him talking to different people and moving around and sitting in different seats.”
Regular customers at the party store in Flint where the suspect worked knew him as “Eli,” the Flint Journal
reported. According to the warrant, Abuelazam had a Bradenton, Florida, address and is 33 years old.
Flint is part of the greater Detroit area, which is home to “one of the largest, oldest and most diverse Arab American communities in the United States,” according to arabdetroit.com, with estimates ranging from 300,000 to 350,000.
A Leesburg police department officer told Channel 10 Thursday that
Abuelazam was “a person of interest in three violent crimes here in
Leesburg, which are believed to be connected to crimes in Toledo, Ohio,
and Flint, Michigan.”
The officer said that Abuelazam was believed to have some sort of family
connection to Leesburg and had traveled back and forth to the area on a
number of occasions.
The Israel Police said Thursday that as yet, they had no information on
Abuelazam or whether he had a criminal record in Israel. Police added
that investigations into his past were still in their initial phases and
that they were looking into whether or not he was linked to any
unsolved murders in Israel.