A teenager has been arrested in Israel on suspicion of making the majority of threats to Jewish community centers across the U.S. since January.
The suspect, a 19-year-old U.S.-Israeli citizen who currently lives in Israel, was apprehended Thursday, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told The Huffington Post. He said a motive is not yet known and that the FBI helped Israeli police with the investigation.
“The investigation began in several countries at the same time, in which dozens of threatening calls were received at public places, events, synagogues and community buildings that caused panic and disrupted events and activities in various organizations,” Rosenfeld said via email.
The suspect made the “bulk of the calls” that Jewish institutions have received across the country, FBI spokeswoman Samantha Shero told HuffPost.
Rosenfeld said the suspect is from the Ashkelon area in southern Israel, and made threats to several countries ― including Canada, New Zealand and Australia ― and at least one commercial flight, forcing an emergency landing.
The suspect’s lawyer, Galit Bash, told reporters in Israel that her client had a “very serious medical condition” that precluded him from Israel’s required military service ― and that he didn’t go to elementary or high school, according to The Associated Press. He was reportedly home-schooled for a period in the U.S. His condition, which local news called a brain tumor, may have affected his behavior, Bash said.
Since the new year, more than 80 Jewish community centers in the U.S. (known as JCCs) and 10 Jewish day schools have received more than 120 threats. The Anti-Defamation League has also been targeted. The threats, spread across dozens of states and several countries, have prompted many evacuations, but none resulted in an attack. Investigations reportedly opened up in several countries at the same time.
The JCC Association of North America CEO Doron Krakow released a statement Thursday morning expressing disappointment that the suspect “is reportedly Jewish.”
“We are troubled to learn that the individual suspected of making these threats against Jewish Community Centers, which play a central role in the Jewish community ... is reportedly Jewish,” he said. “Emblematic of the strength of JCCs and the important model they represent for acceptance, inclusion, and appreciation for diversity is the remarkable support we have received from communities and community leaders across North America.”
A large chunk of the threats made in the U.S. since January have come in waves, and many of the calls came from a similar robotic voice. Authorities said the caller was using technology to disguise his voice, and Israeli police reportedly found computers, an antenna and other equipment in the suspect’s home that would allow him to make calls that are difficult to detect.
“The suspect’s house was searched this morning and evidence was taken by police units as part of the ongoing investigation,” Rosenfeld said. “The suspect was arrested and brought for questioning at the international investigations unit and appeared before the Rishon Lezion court.”
A gag order restricts authorities from releasing his name at this time, Rosenfeld said.
The FBI and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division have investigated the threats since January. The Justice Department declined to comment on the possibility of the suspect’s extradition to the U.S.
The Anti-Defamation League reacted to the news on Twitter:
Previously, officials arrested former journalist Juan M. Thompson in connection with some threats. Thompson was accused of making eight of the threats, allegedly in an attempt to harass an ex-girlfriend.