The Israeli-American teenager behind hundreds of hoax bomb threats against Jewish institutions in the US reportedly earned millions of shekels’ worth of digital currency by selling counterfeit documents over the internet.
Police suspect the 18-year-old — whose name is sealed under gag order in Israel — sold forged identity cards, passports and driver’s licenses over both the internet and the dark net in exchange for bitcoins, a cryptocurrency often used in illicit transactions online, according to a Channel 2 report Thursday.
The dark net is a term used to denote uncatalogued areas of the internet used to foster illicit trade and other illegal activity.
Investigators are said to have have learned of his counterfeiting activity online after discovering millions of shekels’ worth of the digital currency in his bitcoin account, and are currently working to determine who purchased the forged documents, Channel 2 reported.
According to the Daily Beast, the suspect paid for an online service that allows internet users to mask their location and voice using bitcoins.
The teen, whose family lives in Ashkelon, is facing charges of extortion, making threats, publishing false information and is accused of sowing widespread fear and panic.
The suspect was due to appear on Thursday at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court for the third time since his arrest, during which police will seek a further remand in custody.
Police say he was behind a range of threats against Jewish community centers and other buildings linked to Jewish communities in the United States in recent months, and is alleged to have made hundreds of threatening phone calls over the past two to three years, targeting schools and other public institutions in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
His lawyer has argued the teen’s behavior was caused by an inoperable nonmalignant tumor in his brain and his autism.
In an interview aired Monday, the teenager’s father issued an apology “from the bottom of our hearts” to all American Jews and stressed “there was no hatred” behind the threatening calls.
The man said that it was “illness” that was responsible for his son’s actions. “The child is different. He is unique,” said his father, who appeared in silhouette on Channel 2 news and was identified by the pseudonym Eli. “There was no motive of hatred. The motive was illness.”
In an interview with Channel 2 broadcast Saturday, the teenager’s mother said her son has been diagnosed with autism and could not control his actions due to a tumor in his brain.
She said she was “shocked” to discover her son was behind a spate of US bomb scares and wished “I had known and could have prevented it.”
His mother, who spoke halting American-accented Hebrew and was identified only as “C,” said it was clear from a young age that her son, while highly intelligent, could not function in the regular education system.
She said she was 40 when she gave birth to him, in the US, and that he had an unusually large head and did not develop speaking skills at a normal rate, but was very good at solving puzzles and was later diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.
“He couldn’t sit down, he’d walk around, shaking,” she said of his inability to concentrate on tasks. Writing and listening were also problematic.
The woman showed Channel 2 reporters some of her son’s obsessions — endlessly drawing maps, creating complex games for himself with incomprehensible lists of numbers, and collecting and cataloging tickets for every single bus or train ride he took.
She said her son almost never left home and spent most of his time alone. He had no friends, she said.
“I didn’t know how much he sat on his computer,” she said. “I was working. I work nights. I’m at work all night, I come back and sleep.”
The Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported last month that the teenager made more than 1,000 threatening phone calls over the past two years, including at least two threats to Delta Airlines, resulting in the grounding of planes already in the air.
Israeli police only managed to zero in on the suspect after US President Donald Trump sent a team of 12 FBI agents to Israel in recent weeks, Haaretz reported.
The FBI agents are still involved in questioning him here, according to Channel 2, and the family is concerned that the US may seek to extradite him.