Is­rael ar­rests hacker linked to threats on U.S. Jewish cen­ters

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Josef Fe­d­er­man

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.

As the num­ber of threats grew, Trump was crit­i­cized for not speak­ing out. Then, late last month, he opened a speech to Congress by de­nounc­ing anti-Semitism. There was no im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion from the White House to Thurs­day’s ar­rest.

The ADL, JCC As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica and Jewish Fed­er­a­tions of North Amer­ica all wel­comed news of the ar­rest.

But Jonathan Green­blatt, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the ADL, said anti-Semitism in the U.S. re­mains a “very se­ri­ous con­cern.”

“JCCs and other in­sti­tu­tions should not re­lax se­cu­rity mea­sures or be­come less vig­i­lant,” he said.

Karen Dombey, whose child at­tends the David Pos­nack Jewish Community Cen­ter in Davie, Florida, which was evacuated when it re­ceived threats Feb. 27 and March 7, said she was sur­prised that the sus­pect is an Is­raeli-Amer­i­can. About 500 stu­dents from kin­der­garten through high school at­tend classes at the cen­ter, where armed guards stood at its en­trances on Thurs­day.

“I hope it doesn’t hap­pen again. I hope it stops. But the fact that it hap­pened raises aware­ness that we are tar­geted even when we think we are not,” Dombey said.

U.S. au­thor­i­ties have also ar­rested a for­mer jour­nal­ist from St. Louis, Juan Thompson, for al­legedly threat­en­ing Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tions and charged him with one count of cy­ber­stalk­ing.

But Is­raeli po­lice de­scribed the lo­cal man as the pri­mary sus­pect in the wave of threats.

Po­lice said he used so­phis­ti­cated “cam­ou­flage tech­nolo­gies” to dis­guise his voice and mask his lo­ca­tion. They said a search of the teen’s home un­cov­ered an­ten­nas and satel­lite equip­ment.

“In so­phis­ti­cated cy­ber ac­tiv­ity that I can­not de­tail, we ob­tained what we ob­tained and of course ex­posed him and his equip­ment,” na­tional po­lice chief Roni Al­she­ich told re­porters. “This does not bring honor to the state of Is­rael of course. But I think it does bring re­spect to Is­rael’s po­lice.”

NIR KEIDAR / AP

A 19-year-old dual U.S.-Is­raeli cit­i­zen cov­ers his face out­side a court in Ris­hon Lezion, Is­rael on Thurs­day. He is the prime sus­pect be­hind bomb threats against Jewish community cen­ters in the United States.

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