The mother of an Israeli-American teen believed to have been behind hundreds of hoax bomb threats against Jewish institutions in the US said her son has diagnosed autism and could not control his actions due to a tumor in his brain.
The mother, who spoke with Channel 2 news in an interview broadcast Saturday evening, 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 the suspect’s 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, was ordered to remain behind bars for an additional week on Thursday. He is facing charges of extortion, making threats, publishing false information and is accused of sowing widespread fear and panic. His name is under a gag order in Israel, and he was identified only as “M” in the TV report.
Police say he is 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.
He had an antenna in his bedroom, with which he connected to the internet without being easily traced, and used voice-masking technology.
The suspect’s father, who works in high-tech and who was detained by police along with his son over suspicions he turned a blind eye to his son’s activities, was released by the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court to house arrest on Thursday.
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 autistic 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 pre-school 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 home-school him, and the mother gave up her work as a biochemist to care for her child from 1st grade through to 12th.
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.