Updated at 12:10 p.m. ET
A man in his late teens has been arrested in Israel as the “primary suspect” behind a string of phoned-in bomb threats to Jewish community centers across the U.S. and elsewhere.
The arrest was the result of an investigation by Israeli police and the FBI, a police spokesman says.
The suspect is Jewish and holds both Israeli and U.S. citizenship, according to multiple news outlets citing a police spokesman. His age has been variously reported as 18 or 19.
Israeli police say he was using masking technology to disguise the fact that he was making threatening calls to Jewish centers in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.
Authorities have not identified a motive.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says the arrest “is the culmination of a large-scale investigation spanning multiple continents for hate crimes against Jewish communities across our country.”
As NPR has reported, multiple waves of bomb threats targeted Jewish community centers across America over the past three months. Each wave consisted of threats made by telephone, with multiple states and centers targeted at once. Day care centers were evacuated, and no actual bombs were ever located.
The Anti-Defamation League says there have been more than 160 bomb threats at 120 institutions in the U.S. and Canada.
A former journalist in St. Louis accused of making at least eight of the threats, allegedly as part of a cyberstalking campaign against an ex-girlfriend, was arrested March 3. NBC reports suggested that the St. Louis man was believed to have made “copycat” threats and was not suspected of carrying out the broader wave of threats.
The American-Israeli suspect, in contrast, is being identified as the “primary” suspect.
The Associated Press has more on the arrest:
“Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld described the suspect as a hacker but said his motives were still unclear. Police banned publication of his name but said he was an American-Israeli dual citizen and that he would remain in custody until at least March 30.
” ‘He’s the guy who was behind the JCC threats,’ Rosenfeld said, referring to the dozens of anonymous threats phoned in to Jewish community centers in the U.S. over the past two months. Israeli media said the man had been found unfit for compulsory military service.
“Israel’s Channel 10 TV showed footage of the suspect appearing in court in the central Israeli city of Rishon Letzion. He wore … a blue sweater that he used to cover his face as he walked past reporters.
“The channel said the young man had lived in the U.S. for a period of time and had been home-schooled. It showed images of a large antenna outside his house and said his father was also arrested.”
The FBI confirmed that “the individual suspected” of the threats had been arrested early Thursday in Israel but provided no other details.
Haaretz reports the arrest was carried out by an Israeli cyberattack police unit and that the suspect is not cooperating with police. Officers seized “computers and other items … including antennas he used to access other people’s networks” to mask his trail, the Israeli newspaper reports.
The president and CEO of the JCC Association of North America said he was “gratified” by the progress of the investigation.
“We are 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,” Doron Krakow said in a statement.
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