The Israeli-American teenager arrested Thursday on suspicion of phoning in over 100 hoax bomb threats against Jewish institutions across the US and elsewhere reportedly began making the calls after the army refused to accept him for military service, apparently on medical grounds.
Quoting Israeli police sources, Israel’s Channel 10 news said the army rejection infuriated and depressed him, and made him determined to show “what he was capable of.”
Parts of the case, including the 18-year-old suspect’s name, remain under a gag order in Israel.
The TV report said that the suspect was tracked down following an initial tip from New Zealand, one of several countries along with the United States to which he had telephoned hoax bomb threats to Jewish organizations.
FBI investigators are in Israel questioning the suspect along with Israeli police.
His father is also in detention, reportedly on suspicion that he knew what his son was doing, while his mother has disappeared.
The American-born Israeli teenager had been wreaking electronic havoc of one kind or another for three years, Israel’s Channel 10 reported without elaboration.
He called in threats to Jewish institutions in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the US, and also issued threats to airlines.
His dozens of calls to Jewish institutions, notably including US Jewish Community Centers in recent months, caused evacuations of schools and daycare centers and widespread concern.
He had been home-schooled, rarely left home, but did want to do his mandatory military service, and was refused, the TV report said, infuriating him and prompting his hoax calls campaign.
When he saw the impact his bomb threats were having, his motivation grew to make more calls, the TV report said. Here he was “in his little room” in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, and “the whole world was paying attention… Little him, and the whole world was looking for him.”
The Daily Beast reported Thursday that the youth used a number of sophisticated technologies, including Google Voice and spoofing technology to mask his IP when making the threats.
Over time, according to the report, he grew careless and failed on at least one occasion to route his internet connection through a proxy, leaving behind a real IP address traced back to Israel.
The location was traced to a nearby Wi-Fi access point the suspect was reaching via a large antenna pointing out his window.
Yaniv Azani, head of technology in the Israel Police’s cyber unit, said the suspect used “several different means to camouflage the various layers of communication mechanisms” to carry out the calls.
Police banned publication of the suspect’s name, and said he would remain in custody until at least March 30. During the arrest raid, they said he tried to grab an officer’s gun but was stopped by another officer.
The arrest was announced by Israel Police on Thursday, after what they said was a months-long undercover joint investigation by the cyber unit of the Lahav 433 major crimes division 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 and is also refusing to cooperate, remaining silent during questioning.
The young man appeared briefly in court in the central Israeli city of Rishon Lezion. He wore khaki pants and a blue sweater that he used to cover his face as he walked past reporters. He made no comment.
He faces charges of extortion and is accused of sowing widespread fear and panic, police said.
His lawyer, Galit Besh, said her client had a “very serious medical condition” that might have affected his behavior. She said the condition had prevented him from attending elementary school, high school or enlisting in the army.
“That’s why the medical condition can actually affect the investigation,” she said. “This is one of the things the judge told the police to check, to talk to his doctors, to get more documents and to investigate him in light of his medical situation.”
Channel 10 said the condition was a nonmalignant brain tumor.
In Washington, the FBI confirmed the arrest of the main suspect in the harassing phone calls.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the arrest was the culmination of an investigation “spanning multiple continents.”
“Today’s arrest in Israel is the culmination of a large-scale investigation spanning multiple continents for hate crimes against Jewish communities across our country,” Sessions said in a statement Thursday.
Israel 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.
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.
While welcoming the arrest, many Jewish leaders in the US noted that the waves of bomb threats were accompanied by acts of vandalism in Jewish cemeteries and religious institutions within the US, actions that could not have been carried out from abroad.
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.