Israel arrests Jewish teen over anti-Semitic threats in US

Mike Smith
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A US-Israeli Jewish teenager accused of making dozens of anti-Semitic bomb threats in the United States and elsewhere is escorted by guards as he leaves an Israeli court after his arrest

Israel arrested on Thursday a Jewish teenager accused of making dozens of anti-Semitic bomb threats in the United States and elsewhere, and one to a major airline, following a wide-ranging investigation involving the FBI.

The arrest comes after a wave of bomb threats to American Jewish institutions since the start of the year spread concern and political backlash in the United States.

The suspect is a resident of southern Israel and a dual US-Israeli citizen, police said.

An Israeli court on Thursday remanded him in custody until March 30, and he could be seen lifting his shirt over his face to hide his identity as photographers sought to film him.

His identity is under a gag order while the investigation continues. His motive was not yet clear.

His lawyer, Galit Bash, said that he is 18 and has severe health issues likely to cloud his judgement, although she did not identify his condition.

"He is 18-and-a-half years old, he suffers from a very serious medical problem, a problem that affects his behaviour, his ability to understand right and wrong," she told reporters at the court in Rishon Lezion, south of Tel Aviv.

Speaking in English she said that poor health prevented him from performing Israel's mandatory military service and from attending high school or elementary school.

"The medical condition can actually affect the investigation and the judge told the police to check with his doctors and to investigate according to his medical condition," she added.

A police statement said "the investigation began in several countries at the same time, in which dozens of threatening calls were received at public places, events, synagogues and community buildings that caused panic and disrupted events and activities in various organisations".

- FBI involved -

The investigation was undertaken in cooperation with the FBI "as well as other police organisations from various countries", it added.

"Investigating hate crimes is a top priority for the FBI," the bureau said in a statement.

"We will continue to work to make sure all races and religions feel safe in their communities and in their places of worship."

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the suspect was believed to be behind a range of threats against Jewish community centres and other buildings linked to Jewish communities in the United States in recent months.

The teenager is also suspected of being behind similar threats in New Zealand and Australia.

In addition, Rosenfeld said he is suspected of a bomb threat to Delta Airlines in February 2015 which led to an emergency landing.

Police said he used voice-disguising technology when making calls. Authorities seized computer equipment and other items.

- 'Large-scale' probe -

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement "today's arrest in Israel is the culmination of a large-scale investigation spanning multiple continents for hate crimes against Jewish communities across our country".

Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement "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".

More than 100 bomb threats to Jewish institutions in the United States have accompanied fears over whether hate crimes and anti-Semitic acts have been on the rise in the country.

Some have said that the rise of Donald Trump as US president has encouraged the extreme right and emboldened hate groups.

But the arrest of a Jewish teenager over at least a portion of the threats is likely to further complicate the debate.

His arrest is not the first linked to the threats in the United States.

On March 3, the FBI arrested a former journalist, Juan Thompson, 31, suspected of making a handful of the bomb threats to Jewish community centres and institutions around the United States.

The Anti-Defamation League, which monitors anti-Semitism in the United States, welcomed the arrest but called on Jewish communities to remain vigilant.

"Even though it appears that the main culprit behind the majority of these attacks has allegedly been identified, anti-Semitism in the US remains a very serious concern," it said.

"No arrests have been made in three cemetery desecrations or a series of other anti-Semitic incidents involving swastika graffiti and hate fliers."

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