The father of an American-Israeli teenager suspected of waging an intimidation campaign of bomb hoaxes and threats to Jewish institutions and other targets around the world said Tuesday that his son is autistic and acted out of psychosis, and is not a criminal.
Israel filed a massive list of criminal charges against the suspect on Monday, including accusations that he made thousands of bomb threat calls and other violent threats to Jewish institutions, schools and hospitals, and to airlines all over the world.
In an interview with Army Radio Tuesday, the teen’s father, named only as “Gabi,” said he and his wife were shocked and wouldn’t have believed their son could be responsible for the crimes. The man stressed that his son, whose name is sealed in Israel under a court-imposed gag order, is autistic and has always suffered from mental health issues.
“We know him as someone who was sick from the day he was born,” Gabi said. “I want everyone to know that he is not a criminal, he is an unfortunate boy who somehow all the systems missed and didn’t uncover all the problems he has.”
He noted that as the boy grew older, his symptoms became worse.
The Justice Ministry said the 18-year-old hacker from Ashkelon was charged at the Tel Aviv District Court with thousands of counts of extortion, publishing false information that caused panic, computer offenses and money laundering, among other charges.
His alleged threats caused fighter jets to scramble, planes to dump fuel and make emergency landings, large numbers of schools to evacuate, and numerous other chaotic consequences. In some cases, he allegedly threatened to execute children he claimed to be holding hostage.
The indictment said that in addition to previously reported threats to Jewish community centers, the unnamed teen also targeted hundreds of non-Jewish schools, airlines and airports, malls, and police stations, in the US, Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Australia and Britain, and tried to extort Republican State Senator Ernesto Lopez from Delaware. He also offered extortion services over the internet in return for compensation in the cryptocurrency bitcoin.
Police said he used sophisticated “camouflage technologies” to disguise his voice and mask his location. They said a search of his home uncovered advanced antennas and satellite equipment.
Gabi told the radio station that he had no idea what his son was up to in his room, as he is very introverted and hardly talks.
“He is completely closed off. He knew how to hide it all from us and everyone else,” he said, noting that he has been prevented from contacting his son as the investigation continues. “He is a different kind of person. He has genius that is incomprehensible.”
The teenager was arrested last month after a manhunt that lasted several years, in conjunction with a US Justice Department investigation. His father was briefly detained as well.
Over the weekend, Channel 2 reported that Israel had refused a US request to extradite the suspect in favor of him being tried in Israel.
In previous court hearings, his lawyer claimed the defendant had a brain tumor and is on the autistic spectrum, which might have affected his behavior. She said his condition had prevented him from attending elementary and high school and enlisting in the army, which is compulsory for most Jewish Israelis.
His parents have also argued that he is unfit to stand trial, though they have apologized for his alleged crimes.
AP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.