An 18-year-old dual American Israeli living in Ashkelon has been arrested, suspected of being behind most of a series of bomb and other threats to Jewish communities in the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand that date back around six months, the Israel Police announced.
As of Thursday, with a gag order on the probe being lifted by the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court at the same time it extended his detention, sources indicate that most of the threats against the Diaspora communities and organizations led investigators back to Israel.
The first threat that stood out and was picked up on by Israeli investigators occurred in New Zealand around six month ago and led to the opening of the investigation.
Israel has been the lead coordinator with a number of other involved countries over the course of the probe.
The suspect used very complex methods to shield himself from identification and being caught, and law enforcement had to use a variety of their own complex methods to find him.
Wave of bomb threats called to Jewish commmunity centers across the US , possible antisemitism(credit: REUTERS)
Law enforcement finally searched the suspect’s house on Thursday. They are only now able to piece together the breadth and methodology of his operations.
There are still few details available about the suspect’s profile, but he is not in the IDF, not ultra-Orthodox, at some point made aliya and possibly has psychological problems and few friends, with reports saying his lawyer said he has a nonmalignant brain tumor.
The suspect’s father has also been arrested and the court extended his detention until March 30, saying he appeared to be involved in most of the same crimes and many of the threatening telephone calls. The suspect’s allegedly suspicious activities were also noted, including the suspect’s use of an unusually large antenna and other unusual hardware that could have drawn suspicion.
The suspect’s mother was questioned, but is not currently a suspect.
It is unknown how many others might have worked with the suspect, but it is believed that he was the main operator of the scare-spree and might have even acted completely on his own.
As of Thursday, it was still unclear what the suspect’s motivations were for the many threats, which made international headlines and got US President Donald Trump caught up in accusations that he was light on antisemitism when he did not initially harshly condemn the scares as well as desecrations of Jewish graves, which presumably were not connected to the suspect.
Israel intends to indict the suspect in its own courts, but it is unknown as of Thursday whether other countries such as the US might also seek to extradite and try him.
Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told the Post, “This is one of the numerous ongoing police operations that take place with other international security and intelligence organizations in order to try to find suspects.
“This specific investigation was complex in terms of the suspect and its nature, and there was a significant breakthrough in the investigation which led us to make the arrest of the suspect, who lives in southern Israel,” he said.
“He was the main suspect behind the numerous threats that were made to different Jewish communities and organizations around the world,” Rosenfeld continued.
Further, Rosenfeld said, “As part of the ongoing investigation, we are trying to see if and how he was connected to the different Jewish communities in the US. That directs the investigation as to the American connection. We are looking to see if there was an incident which triggered him to carry out threatening those communities.”
US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions said on Thursday that the arrest in Israel of a suspect in bomb threats made to American-Jewish centers reflects the government’s policy of zero tolerance for hate crimes.
“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the civil rights of all Americans, and we will not tolerate the targeting of any community in this country on the basis of their religious beliefs,” Sessions said in a statement. “I commend the FBI and Israeli National Police for their outstanding work on this case.”
Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, also released a statement praising law enforcement and expressing relief that an arrest has been made.
“Ten days ago, and again this morning, Jewish leaders were briefed by top officials from the FBI. From those briefings we learned about the unprecedented level of time and resources that were committed to this investigation along with high levels of cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security and a long list of partners, including Israeli law enforcement. It was heartbreaking to learn that a Jewish man is a prime suspect,” he said.
“Our ability to adapt quickly and liaise with law enforcement officials was in large part due to the work of the Secure Community Network. As a community and a society we must remain vigilant in our effort to counter antisemitism and other hate crimes as they appear. We are fortunate to know we have partners in law enforcement who will do whatever it takes to bring these perpetrators to justice,” he continued.
“On behalf of the JCC Association of North America and JCCs across the continent, we are gratified by the progress in this investigation, and applaud the commitment and leadership of the FBI and other federal agencies, Israeli law enforcement and local law enforcement across the United States and Canada.
“We are troubled to learn that the individual suspected of making these threats against Jewish community centers, which play a central role in the Jewish community, as well as serve as inclusive and welcoming places for all – is reportedly Jewish,” Silverman said.
“Emblematic of the strength of JCCs and the important model they represent for acceptance, inclusion and appreciation for diversity is the remarkable support we have received from communities and community leaders across North America, including civic, political and faith community leaders. Throughout this long-running period of concern and disruption that we are hopeful has come to an end, JCCs have had the opportunity to review and assess our security protocols and procedures, and we are confident that JCCs are safer today than ever before.
“As we celebrate JCC Association of North America’s centennial this year, millions of members and participants across the United States and Canada will continue to pass through our doors, taking part in the extraordinary programs and initiatives that have defined the town square of North American Jewish life. And they will continue to do so with total confidence that JCCs remain a vital and exciting engine for building inspired and ever-stronger communities,” Silverman said.