US issues fresh indictments against Israeli-American teen over bomb threats

Justice Department charges Ashkelon teenager with hate crimes, cyberstalking in Florida, Georgia, Washington

The suspect brought for a court hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court, under suspicion of Issuing fake bomb threats against Jewish institutions around the world, on March 23, 2017.  (Flash90)
The suspect brought for a court hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court, under suspicion of Issuing fake bomb threats against Jewish institutions around the world, on March 23, 2017. (Flash90)

An Israeli-American teenager accused of waging an intimidation campaign of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers in the United States and other targets around the world was indicted on hate crimes charges Wednesday by the US Department of Justice.

The 19-year-old, whose name is barred from publication in Israel by court order, holds dual Israeli and US citizenship and is currently imprisoned in Israel, pending his trial.

He had previously been charged in the US, but was indicted in another three jurisdictions for a slew of criminal offenses, the Justice Department said.

The suspect also faces a long list of criminal charges in Israel. The Justice Department statement did not clarify whether the US would seek his extradition.

According to the Justice Department, if convicted, the teenager could face a maximum jail term of 20 years for each of the hate crime charges; 10 years’ imprisonment for each of the bomb threats; and a five-year sentence for other hoax and cyberstalking charges.

In addition, the suspect could be ordered to pay compensation to the harassment victims.

The new indictments were lodged in Florida, Georgia, and Washington, DC.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions holds a news conference at the Department of Justice on December 15, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

“When individuals target victims of their crimes based on who they are, what they believe, or how they worship, they target the bedrock principles on which our nation was founded,” said US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to the Justice Department statement. “These alleged threats of violence instilled fear in the Jewish community and other communities across the country, and it is the Justice Department’s duty to make sure all Americans can live their lives without this type of fear.”

The indictment from Florida charges the teen with hate crimes as a result of threatening calls he made to Jewish Community Centers in the state. The Washington charge sheet accuses him of threatening the Israeli Embassy and the Anti-Defamation League in Washington, DC. The third indictment charges him with cyberstalking and conveying false information to police regarding possible threats to the wellbeing of private residents in Georgia.

“These alleged threats were very real for those individuals who were evacuated, for the first responders who quickly mobilized to get people out of harm’s way, and for those in Jewish communities across the United States who felt targeted and unsafe,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “This indictment demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to working together with our partners to protect the safety and civil rights of all Americans, and shows that we will not stand by as someone threatens our communities based on their religion or their beliefs.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies on worldwide threats during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on February 13, 2018. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

The Anti-Defamation League welcomed the new charges, which come a day after the organization noted a spike in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the US.

“Make no mistake, these threats were acts of anti-Semitism and deserve to be treated as a hate crime,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said. “They targeted Jewish institutions in order to stoke fear and anxiety, and put the entire Jewish community on high alert.”

The watchdog also called on Congress to advance legislation protecting religious institutions.

“We again call on Congress to enact legislation to expand federal protections against bomb threats to religious institutions. The House of Representatives approved their version of this measure in December and now the Senate must act without hesitation,” he said.

An Israeli-American teenager, accused of making bomb threats in the United States and elsewhere, is escorted by police as he leaves a courtroom in Rishon Lezion on March 23, 2017. (AFP/Jack Guez)

Last year, Israel filed a laundry list of charges against the teenager, who lives in Ashkelon, including accusations that he had made thousands of bomb threat calls and issued other violent warnings to institutions, schools, hospitals, and airlines in numerous countries.

Israeli authorities say the teenager made 245 threatening calls, mostly to community centers and schools in the US, from January to March 2017, using an online calling service that disguised his voice and allowed him to hide his identity.

According to authorities, the teen had offered to sell his threat-making services through an online black market. Court documents unsealed in August linked the teenager to a posting on the now-shuttered illicit marketplace AlphaBay advertising a “School Email Bomb Threat Service.” The poster offered to send customized threats to schools for $30, plus a surcharge if the buyer sought to have someone framed.

His alleged threats caused fighter jets to scramble, planes to dump fuel and make emergency landings, schools to evacuate, and numerous other chaotic consequences. In some cases, he allegedly threatened to execute children he claimed to be holding hostage.

The lawyer of the young Israeli hacker, suspected of sending bomb threats to Jewish facilities across the world, shows the court an image of a tumor in her client’s brain, at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court, on March 30, 2017. (Flash90)

The threats sent a chill through Jewish communities and raised fears of anti-Semitism.

He was arrested in March 2017 and indicted in Israel.

The suspect’s parents said he has a brain tumor and is on the autistic spectrum, and that these conditions affected his behavior. In May 2017, his lawyer said during an interview with Channel 10 news the suspect had tried to kill himself five times within the span of two weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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