Israeli-American man arrested in connection to bomb threats against Jewish centers

PHOTO: An American-Israeli teenager, accused of making dozens of anti-Semitic bomb threats in the United States and elsewhere, is escorted by guards as he leaves the Israeli Justice court in Rishon LeZion, Israel, March 23, 2017.PlayJack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH Israeli-American arrested over threats to Jewish centers

A 19-year-old Jewish man who is an Israeli-American dual citizen was arrested early this morning in Israel in connection with a series of bomb threats made against Jewish community centers and Jewish schools in the United States and other countries, police and sources told ABC News.

The suspect's father has also been arrested for the same charges, an Israeli government official said.

Police believe the man made fake bomb threats in New Zealand and Australia and against scores of Jewish institutions across the U.S.

PHOTO: Brighton Police Chief Mark Henderson said there was no bomb found and investigation into the threat continues at the Louis S. Wolk Jewish Community Center, March 7, 2017, in Rochester, N.Y.Tina Macintyre-Yee/Democrat and Chronicle/USA TODAY
Brighton Police Chief Mark Henderson said there was no bomb found and investigation into the threat continues at the Louis S. Wolk Jewish Community Center, March 7, 2017, in Rochester, N.Y.

He also allegedly called in fake bomb threats to two Delta flights at New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2015, according to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

The threats grounded the flights while passengers were evacuated and luggage was rescreened.

The suspect was arrested early this morning in his family's home in the southern city of Ashkelon after a monthslong investigation that included the FBI and European law enforcement agencies, Rosenfeld said. The teenager resisted arrest, Rosenfeld said, explaining that the teen moved toward one of the arresting officers in what is believed to have been an attempt to grab the officer’s sidearm, but the teen never reached the gun.

Israeli police confiscated several computers, antennas, satellite equipment and other advanced technology. Some of the equipment was allegedly used to "camouflage" the suspect's voice for automated calls, Rosenfeld said. He added that the suspect also allegedly had equipment that allowed him to use many IP addresses, making it hard to trace him.

PHOTO: A police officer blocks an entrance as officials respond to a bomb threat at the Jewish Community Center in Louisville, Ky., March 8, 2017. Bryan Woolston/Reuters
A police officer blocks an entrance as officials respond to a bomb threat at the Jewish Community Center in Louisville, Ky., March 8, 2017.

The suspect appeared in an Israeli court today, and the judge ruled that his identity would not be released until his next court appearance on March 30.

According to an official briefed on the investigation, the suspect had been deemed insufficiently mentally stable to be drafted into the Israeli Army.

The suspect's attorney, Galit Bash, told ABC News in a statement, "This is a young man without a criminal record who suffers from serious medical problems from a young age. There is a concern that his medical condition affects his cognitive functions. In light of this, we asked the court to order the young man to undergo a medical examination. The court accepted our arguments and ordered the police to examine the young man's medical condition."

Police have not commented on the teen's motives. It is unclear if he will be tried in Israel or the U.S., police said.

Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, said it was "heartbreaking to learn that a Jewish man is a prime suspect."

Doron Krakow, the president and CEO of the JCC Association of North America, said the organization is "troubled to learn that the individual suspected of making these threats against Jewish Community Centers — which play a central role in the Jewish community, as well as serve as inclusive and welcoming places for all — is reportedly Jewish."

He continued, "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, including civic, political and faith community leaders. Throughout this long running period of concern and disruption that we are hopeful has come to an end, JCCs have had the opportunity to review and assess our security protocols and procedures, and we are confident that JCCs are safer today than ever before."

PHOTO: Rabbis with the local community share water with first responders as local and federal officers respond to the bomb threat at the Jewish Community Center in Louisville, Ky., March 8, 2017. Bryan Woolston/Reuters
Rabbis with the local community share water with first responders as local and federal officers respond to the bomb threat at the Jewish Community Center in Louisville, Ky., March 8, 2017.

Gilad Erdan, Israel's minister of public security, said in a statement after reports of the arrest, "I congratulate the Israeli police on leading a complex international investigation, together with law enforcement agencies from around the world, which led to the arrest of the suspect. We hope that this investigation will help shed light on some of the recent threats against Jewish institutions, which have caused great concern both among Jewish communities and the Israeli government."

The FBI said in a statement, "Investigating hate crimes is a top priority for the FBI, and we will continue to work to make sure all races and religions feel safe in their communities and in their places of worship."

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the arrest "the culmination of a large-scale investigation spanning multiple continents for hate crimes against Jewish communities across our country."

"The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the civil rights of all Americans, and we will not tolerate the targeting of any community in this country on the basis of their religious beliefs," he said in a statement. "I commend the FBI and Israeli national police for their outstanding work on this case.”

Across the U.S. this year, there have been five waves of bomb threats at JCCs and Jewish schools. The JCC Association of North America reported 100 incidents this year alone. No bombs were found at any of the locations. The FBI and the Justice Department's civil rights division were investigating the incidents.

PHOTO: Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department K-9 officers search the Jewish Community Center of Southern Nevada after an employee received a suspicious phone call that led people to evacuate the building, Feb. 27, 2017, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department K-9 officers search the Jewish Community Center of Southern Nevada after an employee received a suspicious phone call that led people to evacuate the building, Feb. 27, 2017, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

While the threats were false, Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, told ABC News earlier this month the threats created "terror" for the people evacuated from the facilities — including preschool children, the elderly and teenagers — as well as their family members.

PHOTO: People evacuated because of a bomb threat return to the David Posnack Jewish Community Center and David Posnack Jewish Day School, Feb. 27, 2017, in Davie, Fla. Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo
People evacuated because of a bomb threat return to the David Posnack Jewish Community Center and David Posnack Jewish Day School, Feb. 27, 2017, in Davie, Fla.

In a statement today he said called the crimes "acts of anti-Semitism."

"These threats targeted Jewish institutions, were calculated to sow fear and anxiety and put the entire Jewish community on high alert," Greenblatt said. "Even though it appears that the main culprit behind the majority of these attacks has allegedly been identified, anti-Semitism in the U.S. remains a very serious concern. No arrests have been made in three cemetery desecrations or a series of other anti-Semitic incidents involving swastika graffiti and hate fliers. JCCs and other institutions should not relax security measures or become less vigilant."

PHOTO: A security guard stands outside the entrance to the David Posnack Jewish Community Center and David Posnack Jewish Day School after people were evacuated because of a bomb threat, Feb. 27, 2017, in Davie, Fla.Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo
A security guard stands outside the entrance to the David Posnack Jewish Community Center and David Posnack Jewish Day School after people were evacuated because of a bomb threat, Feb. 27, 2017, in Davie, Fla.

A former journalist arrested in the U.S. earlier this month was accused of making at least eight threats against JCCs, Jewish schools, a Jewish museum and the Anti-Defamation League. The man was not believed to be the main suspect behind this year's rash of bomb threats. Law enforcement officials told ABC News the man appeared to take advantage of news coverage of the threats in order to exact revenge on a woman who had ended a romantic relationship.

ABC News' Benjamin Gittleson, Jordana Miller and Jack Date contributed to this report.

Comments