A Jewish Israeli teenager born in the US has been arrested on suspicion of issuing dozens of fake bomb threats against Jewish institutions in North America and elsewhere in recent months, police said on Thursday.
Police said the resident of the southern city of Ashkelon was the subject of a months-long undercover investigation by police’s Lahav 433 cyber unit and the FBI. It said in a statement that the motive behind the bomb threats was unclear. Police said he is 19 years old, but several Israeli media outlets reported him as 18.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the suspect allegedly placed dozens of threatening phone calls to public venues, synagogues and community buildings in the US, New Zealand and Australia. He also placed a threat to Delta Airlines, causing a flight in February 2015 to make an emergency landing.
“He’s the guy who was behind the JCC threats,” Rosenfeld said, referring to the dozens of anonymous threats phoned in to Jewish community centers in the US over the past two months.
The hoax calls were widely regarded as acts of anti-Semitism. The threats led to criticism of President Donald Trump’s administration for not speaking out fast enough. Last month, the White House denounced the threats and rejected “anti-Semitic and hateful threats in the strongest terms.”
Channel 2 reported that the suspect tried to seize the gun of a female police officer when cops arrived at his home to arrest him.
Rosenfeld said the man used advanced technologies to mask the origin of his calls and communications to synagogues, community buildings and public venues. He said police searched his house Thursday morning and discovered antennas and satellite equipment.
“He didn’t use regular phone lines. He used different computer systems so he couldn’t be backtracked,” Rosenfeld said.
The suspect was brought before the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court later on Thursday for a remand hearing. He was ordered to be placed under 24-hour observation, as a potential danger to himself, Channel 2 reported.
His father was also summoned by police for questioning.
The suspect, who was not named, faces charges of extortion and is accused of sowing widespread fear and panic, police said.
Sources confirmed the suspect is a dual US-Israeli citizen. He was exempted from the mandatory IDF service after recruiters deemed him unfit for military service, according to the Haaretz daily.
During his court hearing, the suspect covered his face with a sweater. A neighbor told the channel he was extremely quiet and would only leave his home to walk a dog, always wearing the same clothes.
Nearly 150 bomb threats have hit JCCs, Jewish day schools and other Jewish institutions since the beginning of the year, causing the evacuation of dozens of Jewish community centers. The threats have mostly come in waves, via phone and email. Many of the institutions have been threatened more than once.
The FBI, Department of Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies have been investigating the threats to the Jewish institutions.
Juan Thompson, a St. Louis resident, has been charged with committing eight of the threats, but appears to have been a copycat.
Earlier this month, a top New York police official said most of the threats were likely being carried out by a single individual using phone spoofing technology to mask the source of the calls.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.