JERUSALEM — 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 and other institutions in the U.S., marking a potential breakthrough in the case.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld described the suspect as a hacker, but said his motives were still unclear. Israeli media identified him as an American-Israeli dual citizen and said he had been found unfit for compulsory service in the Israeli military.
“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.
The FBI, which had taken part in the investigation, confirmed the arrest but had no other comment.
The Anti-Defamation League says there have been more than 150 bomb threats against Jewish community centers and day schools in 37 states and two Canadian provinces since Jan. 9. Those threats led to evacuations of the buildings, upset Jewish communities and raised fears of rising anti-Semitism. The threats were accompanied by acts of vandalism on several Jewish cemeteries.
The threats led to criticism of President Donald Trump’s administration for not speaking out fast enough. Last month, the White House denounced the threats and rejected “anti-Semitic and hateful threats in the strongest terms.”
U.S. authorities have also arrested a former journalist from St. Louis for allegedly threatening Jewish organizations. Juan Thompson has been indicted in New York on one count of cyberstalking.
But Israeli police described the local man as the primary suspect in the wave of threats.
Israeli police said the suspect made dozens of calls claiming to have placed bombs in public places and private companies, causing panic and “significant economic damage,” and disrupting public order, including by the hurried evacuations of a number of public venues around the world. The man is suspected of placing threatening phone calls to Australia, New Zealand and also within Israel.
Rosenfeld said the man called Delta Airlines in February 2015 and made a false threat about explosives aboard a flight from JFK airport in New York. The threat allegedly led to an emergency landing.
Rosenfeld said the man, from the south of Israel, used advanced technologies to mask the origin of his calls and communications to synagogues, community buildings and public venues. He said police searched his house Thursday morning and discovered antennas and satellite equipment.
“He didn’t use regular phone lines. He used different computer systems so he couldn’t be backtracked,” Rosenfeld said.
After an intensive investigation in cooperation with FBI representatives who arrived in Israel, as well as other police organizations from various countries, technology was used to track down the suspect, Rosenfeld said.