The Israeli-American teenager arrested Thursday as the main suspect in a string of hoax bomb threats against Jewish institutions across the US and elsewhere appears to have made a key slip-up that led police to track him down, after months of evasion.
Israeli police described the suspect, an 18-year-old resident of the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, as a hacker but said his motives were still unclear.
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 and remained untraceable for some time.
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.
Earlier, 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, but 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.
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 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, which is compulsory for most Jewish men.
“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. It also showed images of a large antenna outside the suspect’s house in Ashkelon. Police said the suspect’s father was also detained, apparently because of the equipment. Late Thursday, police said the father’s detention had been extended by eight days.
In Washington, the FBI confirmed the arrest of the main suspect in the harassing phone calls.
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.