Israel charges teen hacker over JCC bomb threats, blackmailing US state senator

Suspect, 18-year-old dual citizen, ran a 'Dark Net' shop offering his intimidation and harassment tactics for money

An US-Israeli teen who was arrested in Israel on suspicion of making bomb threats against Jewish community centers in the United States, Australia and New Zealand is seen at a remand hearing at Magistrate's Court in Rishon Lezion, Israel on March 23, 2017 (photo credit: REUTERS)
An US-Israeli teen who was arrested in Israel on suspicion of making bomb threats against Jewish community centers in the United States, Australia and New Zealand is seen at a remand hearing at Magistrate's Court in Rishon Lezion, Israel on March 23, 2017
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A dual-national teenager was indicted in the Tel Aviv District Court on Monday for a series of more than 2,000 bomb threats and related actions against Jewish institutions, airports and police stations in the United States and other countries.
According to the prosecution’s special cyber division, which filed the indictment, the 18-year-old Ashkelon resident is also charged with trying to blackmail US politicians including Delaware State Senator Ernesto Lopez who spoke out against the bomb threats, even going so far as sending illegal drugs to his house in order get him in trouble with the law.
Mother of suspected JCC bomb hoaxer gives apology on April 23, 2017 (REUTERS)
The teen, whose name is under gag order because he was a minor when many of the crimes were committed, also tried to blackmail and threaten former top US Department of Defense official George Little, saying he would kidnap and kill his children, and issued a threat against the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC.
“The goal of the defendant was to cause substantial public panic; greatly increase the presence of emergency guards at the threatened sites; panicked evacuations of the sites; searches and sweeps of the sites; and grab media attention, which would maximize the overall harm of his actions,” said the Justice Ministry.
The actual charges include extortion through threats; publicizing fake news that caused fear and confusion; cyber crimes; and money laundering – all of which were carried out over a two-year period.
He also was charged with illegal possession of a weapon, attacking a police officer, selling drugs, possessing pedophile-type materials and other crimes.
The Justice Ministry said the defendant also used the so-called “Dark Net” to sell his cyber intimidation and extortion services to clients who paid him electronic currency according to a price list he posted with set fees for calls to police stations, schools or airports.
He was also accused of using the undetectable Web network to deal in illegal drugs and sell computer kits to counterfeit official documents, manufacture poisons and explosives and to hack into social media accounts.
His business landed him roughly $225,000 in bitcoin currency, and at one point he employed two other individuals to operate as subcontractors, carrying out his tasks.
The teen made at least 245 threatening telephone calls from January 4 to March 7 of this year, many targeting Jewish community centers in the United States, according to a separate US indictment filed Friday in Florida. He also appears to be linked to more than 240 hoax threats called in to schools in the United States and Canada from August to December 2015, forcing thousands of students to be evacuated, according to a separate US indictment in Georgia from Friday.
His defense lawyer in Israel told reporters the defendant has a high IQ but the emotional intelligence of a fiveyear- old.
One flight he threatened with a bomb had the Boston Celtics on board and was temporarily halted while the airplane was checked. Another, in Europe, was accompanied by the French air force after a bomb threat. Numerous other flights, schools, malls and other institutions were evacuated due to his threats.
The waves of threats against Jewish groups forced widespread evacuations and prompted concern among Jewish leaders about a resurgence of antisemitism. Many Jewish community centers took steps to heighten security in response.
Meanwhile, The Jerusalem Post has confirmed that the Justice Ministry rejected an informal request from the US to extradite the JCC bomb threat defendant, The rejection originally was reported by Channel 2 late Sunday night.
Although the US and Israel have strong extradition relations in most cases, the ministry, at least for now, has decided that this case is exceptional, even though a large number of the bomb threats occurred in the US.
One of the most compelling reasons is that the defendant allegedly committed crimes in a large number of countries including Australia, New Zealand and multiple countries in Europe. From that perspective, the defendant should not face trial in numerous locations.
As such, the ministry views Israel as the most logical location because he committed all of the crimes while he was residing in Israel, even though the effects were felt all over the world.
Furthermore, some of the crimes, including weapons possession and attacking a police officer, are very specifically tied to Israel.
Additional considerations include the fact that the defendant was a minor when he committed the crimes, and minors are usually not extradited, as well as that he has asserted various physical and mental problems, which might also make extradition problematic.
Despite the initial decision to reject an informal extradition request, the US has not submitted its full formal extradition request in writing.
When this is received, Israel could reconsider its position and decide to drop certain charges from its indictment.
Currently, the indictment includes all charges for actions in all countries, including the US, which would preclude any trial in the US on grounds of double jeopardy – that no person can be tried twice for the same crimes.
However, large Jewish organizations have already made public statements indicating Israel may face pressure on the extradition issue from multiple fronts.
The bizarre case overturned an entire narrative that had formed about an increase in antisemitism in the US by placing an American-Israeli oleh at the center of the mass anti-Jewish hysteria.
The family of the Ashkelon teen-defendant has tried to defend his actions by citing physical and or mental incompetence due to illness.