JCC bomb threat suspect ordered kept in jail as police try to unravel case
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Jewish Israeli-American allegedly phoned in dozens of hoax threats to Jewish centers in US and beyond

JCC bomb threat suspect ordered kept in jail as police try to unravel case

Teenager, arrested in Ashkelon, said to have nonmalignant brain tumor leading to behavioral issues; US attorney general hails arrest

An American-Israeli Jewish teenager, center, accused of making bomb threats in the United States and elsewhere, is escorted by guards as he leaves the Israeli court in Rishon Lezion on March 23, 2017. (AFP/JACK GUEZ)
An American-Israeli Jewish teenager, center, accused of making bomb threats in the United States and elsewhere, is escorted by guards as he leaves the Israeli court in Rishon Lezion on March 23, 2017. (AFP/JACK GUEZ)

An Israeli-American teen suspected of being behind dozens of bomb threats against Jewish community centers in the US was ordered held in jail Thursday by an Israeli court, hours after he tried to grab an officer’s gun during his arrest.

The arrest of the 18-year-old man was announced by Israel Police on Thursday, after what police said was a months-long undercover investigation by the Lahav 433 cyber unit and the FBI.

Police said the suspect tried to grab a female officer’s gun as he was being arrested. The officer was able to maintain control of the weapon, police said.

The suspect has not been named and details about him or his possible motive have been scant. The suspect refused to cooperate with police and remained silent throughout questioning, Channel 2 news reported.

His attorney, Galit Besh, reportedly said that the teenager has a nonmalignant brain tumor that leads to behavioral issues and that he was home-schooled.

His remand was extended by the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s court for eight days. He faces charges of extortion and is accused of sowing widespread fear and panic, police said.

The man’s father, who was detained at the same time and brought in for questioning, also appeared in court, covering his face.

The father of American-Israeli Jewish teenager, accused of making dozens of anti-Semitic bomb threats in the United States and elsewhere, sits in the Israeli Justice court in Rishon Lezion on March 23, 2017. (AFP/JACK GUEZ)
The father of American-Israeli Jewish teenager, accused of making dozens of anti-Semitic bomb threats in the United States and elsewhere, sits in the Israeli Justice court in Rishon Lezion on March 23, 2017. (AFP/JACK GUEZ)

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.

The Albany JCC, closed briefly due to one of the bomb threats, January 18, 2017. (Screenshot from Twitter via JTA)
The Albany JCC, closed briefly due to one of the bomb threats, January 18, 2017. (Screenshot from Twitter via JTA)

“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.

The arrest was the culmination of a large-scale international investigation into the bomb threats, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.

A Jewish Israeli teen is brought for a court hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court, on suspicion of issuing fake bomb threats against Jewish institutions in the US and around the world, on March 23, 2017. (Flash90)
A Jewish Israeli teen is brought for a court hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court, on suspicion of issuing fake bomb threats against Jewish institutions in the US and around the world, on March 23, 2017. (Flash90)

“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the civil rights of all Americans, and we will not tolerate the targeting of any community in this country on the basis of their religious beliefs,” he said in a statement.

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 said police searched his house Thursday morning and discovered antennas and satellite equipment.

Two young men stop to view police activity outside the Jewish Children's Museum following a bomb threat, Thursday March 9, 2017 in Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP/Bebeto Matthews)
Two young men stop to view police activity outside the Jewish Children’s Museum following a bomb threat, Thursday March 9, 2017 in Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP/Bebeto Matthews)

“He didn’t use regular phone lines. He used different computer systems so he couldn’t be backtracked,” Rosenfeld said.

Jordan Shenker, head of the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, says he is cautiously optimistic that the man arrested in Israel on Thursday acted alone and that the threats will be over.

Shenker says the arrest has led to a feeling of being able to exhale, but that the center has always prioritized security and will continue to do so.

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.

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