The Israeli-American teenager whose remand was extended for eight days by an Israeli court on Thursday over suspicions he was behind dozens of bomb threats against Jewish institutions in the US and elsewhere, was not answering police questions or cooperating with investigators, according to a number of reports in the Hebrew press.
The arrest of the suspect, an 18-year-old resident of Ashkelon, was announced by Israel Police on Thursday, after what they said was a months-long undercover joint investigation by the Lahav 433 cyber unit and the FBI.
Police said they found at least five computers, a number of network interface controllers, satellite and antenna equipment during the arrest raid. According to Haaretz, the youth is refusing to sign a waiver allowing police to search his devices.
Haaretz further reported that police suspect the teen may have received payment for some of his actions through a Bitcoin account. No further details were given.
The Daily Beast reported that police were able to track down the suspect, whose name is being kept under gag order, after he neglected to mask his IP address when making a threat using Google Voice and spoofing technology.
The location was traced to a nearby Wi-Fi access point that the suspect was reaching via a large antenna pointing out his window.
The unnamed suspect appeared before the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s court on Thursday, where the judge ordered 24-hour supervision for the teen while in jail.
He faces charges of extortion and is accused of sowing widespread fear and panic, police said.
During the hearing, it was revealed that the suspect tried to grab a police officer’s gun as he was being arrested. The officer was able to maintain control of the weapon, police said.
The suspect’s defense attorney, Galit Besh, brought up her client’s medical condition during the hearing.
Channel 10 reported that the court heard that the teenager has a nonmalignant brain tumor that leads to behavioral issues and that he was home-schooled.
According to Channel 2, the suspect’s medical problems were discovered when he was 14 years old.
“This is a young man without a criminal past who suffers from severe medical conditions,” Besh told the court, further requesting medical examination, a request granted by the judge.
The suspect has not been named and details about him or his possible motive have been scant.
The man’s father, who was detained at the same time and brought in for questioning, also appeared in court, covering his face. His remand was also extended for eight days.
His attorney, Eran Rao, said he too did not have a criminal past and, unlike his son, was cooperating with the police.
Rao said the father “denied the suspicions and is in distress, worried about his son given his complex medical condition.”
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 made 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.
Police 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.
A neighbor told Channel 10 News he was extremely quiet and would only leave his home to walk a dog, always wearing the same clothes.
Nearly 150 bomb threats 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.
Yaniv Azani, head of technology in the Israeli police’s cyber unit, said the suspect used “several different means to camouflage the various layers of communication mechanisms” to carry out the calls.
Nimrod Vax, co-founder of US-Israeli cybersecurity firm BigID, said the phone calls required a certain level of sophistication, but were “not too difficult” for an experienced hacker.
He said tracking down the suspect would have taken significant resources and court orders to obtain and comb through hoards of electronic records.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement that “we hope that this investigation will help shed light on some of the recent threats against Jewish institutions, which have caused great concern both among Jewish communities and the Israeli government.”
Rosenfeld said the man used advanced technologies to mask the origin of his calls and communications to synagogues, community buildings and public venues.
“He didn’t use regular phone lines. He used different computer systems so he couldn’t be backtracked,” Rosenfeld said.
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.