The father of the Israeli-American teen behind hundreds of hoax bomb threats against Jewish institutions in the US issued an apology “from the bottom of our hearts” to all American Jews on Monday, and stressed “there was no hatred” behind the threatening calls.
Speaking two days after the 18-year-old’s mother had blamed her son’s autism and a tumor on his brain for the hundreds of hoax calls he made, his father also said that it was “illness” that was responsible for his son’s actions. “The child is different. He is unique,” said his father, who appeared in silhouette on Channel 2 news and was identified by the pseudonym Eli. (A police gag order prevents the naming of the 18-year-old suspect, who is being identified only as “M.”) “There was no motive of hatred. The motive was illness.”
Eli, who was previously reported to have worked in high-tech, said without elaboration that he himself had been “exposed to thousands of destructive chemicals” and underwent “three operations to remove tumors. And my son has a tumor.”
He said that he and his son had watched TV news reports of US Jewish centers being evacuated because of the hoax bomb calls. “You see what can happen,” he recalled telling his son, apparently referring to the dangers facing Jews. How did his son react? he was asked. “He didn’t answer.”
Eli, who was held in detention for several days on suspicion of involvement in the threats, but who has since been released with certain limitations, said he wanted to apologize to American Jewry. “To all the Jews in America, I want to say clearly, we are very, very sorry, from the bottom of our hearts. Very sorry.”
The father’s lawyer added that he had nothing to do with his son’s hoax calls, and had no idea what the boy was up to.
Asked somewhat provocatively by the TV interviewer whether he was proud of his son, Eli replied: “I love him. His heart and my heart are the same heart.”
Questioned about the antenna his son placed in his bedroom window that the teen used to connect to the internet without being easily traced, Eli said he had not been suspicious about it.
The suspect, who also used voice-masking technology, is to appear before judges again on Thursday, where police will seek a further remand in custody.
In comments on Monday. M’s mother said her son has been diagnosed with autism and could not control his actions due to a tumor in his brain.
She said she was “shocked” to discover her son was behind a spate of US bomb scares and wished “I had known and could have prevented it.”
But, speaking with her face concealed, she insisted that the teen was not responsible for his actions. “My son is not a criminal, he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” she said, repeating claims by his lawyer that a non-malignant brain tumor discovered several years ago had an adverse affect on his behavior.
The teen, whose family lives in Ashkelon, is facing charges of extortion, making threats, publishing false information and is accused of sowing widespread fear and panic.
Police say he was behind a range of threats against Jewish community centers and other buildings linked to Jewish communities in the United States in recent months, and is alleged to have made hundreds of threatening phone calls over the past two to three years, targeting schools and other public institutions in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
His mother, who spoke halting American-accented Hebrew and was identified only as “C,” said it was clear from a young age that her son, while highly intelligent, could not function in the regular education system.
She said she was 40 when she gave birth to him, in the US, and that he had an unusually large head, and did not develop speaking skills at a normal rate, but was very good at solving puzzles and was later diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.
“He couldn’t sit down, he’d walk around, shaking,” she said of his inability to concentrate on tasks. Writing and listening were also problematic.
He couldn’t cope with the formal framework of preschool education, she said. When he was about 6, the family moved to Israel, and he could not function in the school system.
The boy’s parents decided to homeschool him, and the mother gave up her job as a biochemist to care for her child from first grade through twelfth.
The woman showed Channel 2 reporters some of her son’s obsessions — endlessly drawing maps, creating complex games for himself with incomprehensible lists of numbers, and collecting and cataloging tickets for every single bus or train ride he took.
She said her son almost never left home and spent most of his time alone. He had no friends, she said.
“I didn’t know how much he sat on his computer,” she said. “I was working. I work nights. I’m at work all night, I come back and sleep.”
She added that she had discussed the recent bomb scares with her son, as she was worried about Jewish American friends of hers. Her son, she said, had also expressed concern about the threatening calls to Jewish targets. “It doesn’t make sense. This is a kid who loves Judaism.”
The mother said she was “very sorry for what happened,” but that her son was “not at fault.”
“It’s the tumor. It could happen to anyone with a tumor in his head,” she said. “He’s autistic, he can’t control it, he can’t think straight. He needs medical help.”
The Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported last Sunday that the teenager made more than 1,000 threatening phone calls over the past two years, including at least two threats to Delta Airlines, resulting in the grounding of planes already in the air.
Israeli police only managed to zero in on the suspect after US President Donald Trump sent a team of 12 FBI agents to Israel in recent weeks, Haaretz reported.
The FBI agents are still involved in questioning him here, the TV report said, and the family is concerned that the US may seek to extradite the suspect.
Below is a recording and transcription of one of the bomb threats, made on January 18.
It’s a C-4 bomb with a lot of shrapnel, surrounded by a bag (inaudible). In a short time, a large number of Jews are going to be slaughtered. Their heads are going to be blown off from the shrapnel. There’s a lot of shrapnel. There’s going to be a bloodbath that’s going to take place in a short time. I think I told you enough. I must go.
Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.