Israeli police and intelligence officials announced Sunday in Jerusalem the arrest of Yaakov Teitel, a 36-year-old Jewish-American settler from Florida accused of murder and hate crimes.
Teitel, who immigrated to Israel in 2000, was arrested in early October while distributing leaflets in a religious neighborhood of Jerusalem praising a deadly shooting attack on gays and lesbians.
He lives in a settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories and is married with four children. Police maintained a tight gag order on the case until Sunday night.
Teitel is accused of murdering two Palestinians in separate attacks in 1997 while he was visiting Israel and, according to the police, acting out of revenge for Palestinian suicide attacks. He told police investigators he was "God's emissary in Israel."
He is also accused of the attempted murder of an Israeli teenager from a family of so-called Messianic Jews who are Jewish but also believe Jesus is the resurrected Messiah, as well as a well-known, left-wing Israeli academic. In both cases, he allegedly used crude homemade bombs to attack his victims.
He has admitted his guilt to all the charges, police said, and he appears to have acted alone.
His wife was questioned at length but has been cleared of any involvement. "I am surprised and believe in his innocence," she told police.
Other members of the tightly knit community of Shvut Rachel near Ramallah said they had no idea about his violent activities. Police found a stash of high-powered rifles and bomb-making equipment in the grounds of his house.
Teitel said the handgun used in the alleged attack on the two dead Palestinians was smuggled into Israel onboard a British Airways flight, and his collection of rifles was smuggled from the United States inside a shipping container, according to police.
"I almost never spoke to him," his local rabbi, Ben Tziyon Ama, said. "He would come to synagogue from time to time but most of us didn't know what he did."
Some news reports raised questions today about why it took so long for the net to close on Teitel.
Police questioned him at length in 1997 in connection with the two Palestinian killings. He was released without charge and his gun licence was not revoked.
Spokesmen for Jewish settler organizations have been quick to join the condemnation of his alleged crimes, and some have launched a defence of their members for fear they will be tarnished by association.
Israeli authorities stepped up their investigation into Jewish extremists following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin by a Jewish radical 14 years ago.