A 19-year-old living in Ashkelon, Israel was arrested in connection with the string of recent bomb threats to Jewish facilities in the United States and around the world, The Jerusalem Post reported.
The man, who has dual American-Israeli citizenship, has not been identified. There have been more than 120 bomb threats to JCCs and Anti-Defamation League offices around the United States in recent months, including in Southeastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware.
The most recent local bomb threats occurred Feb. 27 with evacuations at the Katz Jewish Community Center and Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey in Cherry Hill, and the Perelman Jewish Day School Stern Center and Kaiserman JCC in Wynnewood. There were other threats made that day to centers in Wilmington, Del., as well as York and Harrisburg in Pennsylvania.
“We’re very glad someone was arrested for something that was really terrifying for a lot of people,” said Nancy Baron-Baer, director of the ADL’s Eastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey and Delaware region. “We’re grateful for all of the law enforcement officials who made it a high priority.”
The JCC Association of North America said Thursday that it is “gratified by the progress in this investigation” and praised law enforcement agencies’ “commitment and leadership,” according to JNS.org. But the organization added that it is “troubled to learn that the individual suspected of making these threats … is reportedly Jewish.”
The Post said the “suspect used very complex methods to shield himself from identification and being caught, and law enforcement had to use a variety of their own complex methods to find him.”
The suspect apparently is not in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and is not ultra-Orthodox, the Post said. The paper said the suspect apparently made aliyah at some point.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, who described the suspect as a hacker, said the man had been found unfit for compulsory military service, but said his motives weren’t clear, according to the Associated Press.
The suspect’s lawyer, Galit Bash, told reporters at the courthouse that her client had a “very serious medical condition” that kept him out of the military and may have affected his behavior, the AP said. A television station said the condition was a brain tumor.
The suspect’s father also was detained and is being questioned, the Post said. It isn’t clear if others worked with the suspect, but police believe he was the main person behind the bomb threat spree and possibly acted on his own, the paper said.
The AP said the FBI confirmed the arrest, but made no other comment.
Rosenfeld said the suspect used advanced technologies to mask where his calls originated. A search of his house found antennas and satellite equipment.
“He didn’t use regular phone lines. He used different computer systems so he couldn’t be backtracked,” Rosenfeld said.
JNS.org said voice-altering technology and encryption methods were found in the suspect’s home.
The suspect may also be responsible for a bomb threat against two Delta Airlines flights between New York and Tel Aviv in January 2015, the Times of Israel reported, citing police.
Federal authorities arrested Juan Thompson, 31, of St. Louis on March 3 in connection with several domestic bomb threats, but he apparently is not connected to the suspect in Israel.
While the Thompson arrest and the arrest in Israel may close the books on most of the bomb threats, Baron-Baer noted that no arrests have been made in three Jewish cemetery desecrations — including Mount Carmel Cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia — and a variety of anti-Semitic acts involving swastika graffiti and fliers.
She also pointed out that the alleged culprits are getting more sophisticated.
“We don’t believe we should be relaxing security measures,” she said.
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