Israel police arrest suspect in threats on US Jewish targets

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Israeli police on Thursday arrested a 19-year-old Israeli Jewish man as the primary suspect in a string of bomb threats targeting Jewish community centers. (WPVI)

Israeli police on Thursday arrested a 19-year-old hacker who they said was the main suspect in a wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers in the United States, appearing to crack a case that has sent a chill through the American Jewish community.

The surprising arrest of the Jewish man, who holds dual Israeli and American citizenship, came after a trans-Atlantic investigation with the FBI and other international law enforcement agencies. U.S. Jewish groups welcomed the breakthrough in the case, which had raised concerns of rising anti-Semitism and drawn condemnation from President Donald Trump.

Israeli police described the suspect as a hacker, but said his motives were still unclear.

"He's the guy who was behind the JCC threats," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, referring to the scores of anonymous threats phoned in to Jewish community centers in the U.S. over the past two months.

Police banned publication of his name, but said he was a dual citizen and would remain in custody until at least March 30. During the arrest raid, they said he tried to grab an officer's gun but was stopped by another officer.

The young man appeared briefly in court in the central Israeli city of Rishon Letzion. He wore khaki pants and a blue sweater that he used to cover his face as he walked past reporters. He made no comment.

His lawyer, Galit Bash, said her client had a "very serious medical condition" that might have affected his behavior. She said the condition had prevented him from attending elementary school, high school or enlisting in the army, which is compulsory for most Jewish men.

"That's why the medical condition can actually affect the investigation," she said. "This is one of the things the judge told the police to check, to talk to his doctors, to get more documents and to investigate him according to his medical situation."

Channel 10 TV said the condition was a brain tumor. It also showed images of a large antenna outside the suspect's house in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. Police said the suspect's father was also detained, apparently because of the equipment. Late Thursday, police said the father's detention had been extended by eight days.

In Washington, the FBI confirmed the arrest of the main suspect.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Justice Department "will not tolerate the targeting of any community in the country on the basis of their religious beliefs." He called work by the FBI and Israeli police "outstanding."

Since Jan. 9, there have been more than 150 bomb threats against Jewish community centers and day schools in 37 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish group that battles anti-Semitism.

The threats led to evacuations, sent a chill through local Jewish communities and raised fears of rising anti-Semitism. Acts of vandalism on Jewish targets, including cemeteries, have added to those concerns.

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