Aug. 12, 2010— -- An Israeli-Arab arrested for attempted murder as he was waiting to board a flight to Israel is believed to be the serial killer who stabbed 18 men -- murdering five of them -- in recent months, police said today.
Elias Abuelazam, 33, was apprehended Wednesday night at Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport as he waited for his flight to leave the country, officials said. He was tracked to the airport after investigators followed a new lead that originated in Michigan.
"The person that we believe is responsible is off the street," Leesburg, Va., Police Chief Joseph Price said today.
Though he finally was charged, the airport arrest was not the first time police stopped Abuelazam during the stabbing spree. At least twice in recent weeks, police in Michigan and Virginia nabbed him, with police in Virginia even spotting possible murder weapons.
In both cases, the authorities let him go, apparently failing to peg him as a suspect in the stabbings.
In one incident, Abuelazam was charged with providing alcohol to a minor on the evening of July 29 in Genesee County, Mich., according to court records on file in the 67th District Court there.
The citation came the same day as an early morning attack in the area now considered part of the stabbing spree.
Abuelazam was supposed to appear in a Mount Morris, Mich., court room on the charge on Aug. 4, but he failed to show up. The 67th District Court still has Abuelazam's Florida driver's license, which he surrendered at the time of his citation in lieu of posting bond, according to the Genesee County Prosecutor's Office.
In another incident, last week, Abuelazam was picked up in Arlington, Va., for failing to stop at a stop sign, Genesee County prosecutor David Leyton said.
During a background check, police discovered he had an oustanding warrant for misdemeanor assault. While he was booked and placed in a holding cell, police impounded his car. During a search, police found a knife in the driver's side door and a hammer, two weapons victims of the attacks had described.
But at that point, there had been no known attacks in Virginia and Abuelazam was released and the car was returned to him, Leyton said.
"The Arlington police certainly had no idea" about the prior attacks, Leyton said.
Abuelazam finally was caught for good as he was trying to board a Delta flight bound for Tel Aviv, Israel, federal officials said. He was waiting in the gate area to board when the Transportation Security Administration alerted Delta to hold the plane while authorities got in place.
Airport employees then paged Abuelazam over the intercom and, when he came to the desk, he was taken into custody without incident, an Atlanta Police Department report said.
Abuelazam has been charged one count of assault with intent to murder in connection with a July 27 attack in Flint, Mich. Though that charge can carry a life sentence, further charges are expected as the investigation continues, Leyton said.
Police believe Abuelazam may be behind 18 knife attacks beginning in May that spanned Michigan, Virginia and Ohio. Five of the victims died from their wounds -- David Motley, 31, Emmanuel A. Muhammad, 59, Darwin Marshall, 43, and Arnold R. Minor, 49, all of Flint, and Frank Kellybrew, 60, of Flint Township, Mich., according to The Associated Press.
The serial stabber was blamed for as many as 20 attacks at one point, but police determined two of the reported assaults were not likely linked to the serial stabber.