Israel on Monday filed a massive laundry list of criminal charges against an Israeli-American teenager accused of making thousands of bomb threat calls and other violent threats to Jewish institutions, schools, hospitals and airlines all over the world. His alleged threats caused fighter jets to scramble, planes to dump fuel and make emergency landings, large numbers of schools to evacuate, and numerous other chaotic consequences. In some cases, he allegedly threatened to execute children he claimed to be holding hostage.
The Justice Ministry said the 18-year-old hacker from Ashkelon was charged at the Tel Aviv District Court with thousands of counts of extortion, publishing false information that caused panic, computer offenses and money laundering, among other charges.
The indictment says that in addition to the previously reported threats to Jewish community centers, the unnamed teen also targeted hundreds of non-Jewish schools, airlines and airports, malls, and police stations, in the US, Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Australia and Britain, and tried to extort Republican State Senator Ernesto Lopez from Delaware. He also offered extortion services over the internet in return for compensation in the cryptocurrency bitcoin.
The Israeli indictment reveals a pattern of threats far more numerous, more vicious, and against a far wider range of targets, than previously reported.
The court said the motive for the violent threats was to cause public alarm.
Israel has not publicly identified the suspect because he was a minor when he allegedly committed some of the offenses. A court gag order prevents Israeli media from publishing his name.
In the first of eight separate charges in the Israeli indictment, prosecutors allege 142 counts of making threatening calls and conveying false information to police.
According to the court, he called American Airlines, Virgin Australia and El Al and warned of imminent bomb attacks. The July 2016 threat against the Israeli airline prompted French and Swiss fighter jets to scramble and escort the airliner due to fears of a potential hijacking.
A bomb threat the teen called in to a Canadian airport led to the emergency evacuation of passengers who had already boarded a plane. Six people were injured exiting the plane on inflatable slides.
The indictment said the threat against the Virgin Australia flight resulted in the passenger plane dumping eight tons of fuel over the ocean as a precaution before landing.
He also threatened a plane being used by the NBA’s Boston Celtics basketball team.
The suspect allegedly posted a price list, advertising that potential customers could commission a threat of a “massacre at a private home” for $40, a call threatening a “school massacre” for $80, and a bomb threat against a plane for $500. “The accused even asked customers to contact him if they had special requests for threats against other targets and to receive a customized quote,” the indictment charged. He had some $240,000-worth of Bitcoin currency in an internet account — payments for his threatening services, Israeli prosecutors allege.
The second charge includes some 2,000 counts of making threatening calls to Jewish and Israeli institutions across the US in recent months.
Police said he used sophisticated “camouflage technologies” to disguise his voice and mask his location. They said a search of his home uncovered advanced antennas and satellite equipment.
The third charge in the lengthy indictment alleges that he made at least 48 separate threatening calls to US law enforcement agencies and officials. In some, he falsely claimed to be holding children hostage, and threatened to execute them.
The fourth charge alleges that he threatened State Senator Lopez, as well as harassing a former Pentagon official, then-assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs George Little, including threatening to kidnap and kill his children.
He was also charged with using the dark web to deal drugs, run an online hacking and document forging service, and buy and sell weapons online, and possession of child pornography.
He is also charged with assaulting the police officers who came to arrest him on March 23, 2017, when he attempted to grab the firearm of one of the officers.
On Friday, the Ashkelon native was charged in US federal court in Orlando, Florida, with 28 counts of making threatening calls and conveying false information to police. Separately, he was charged with three more counts of cyberstalking in an indictment filed in a federal court in Athens, Georgia.
Over the weekend, Israel’s Channel 2 reported that Israel had refused a US request to extradite the suspect in favor of him being tried in Israel.
The wave of bomb threats to American Jewish institutions in recent months helped spread fear amid an apparent increase in hate crimes and anti-Semitic acts in the United States. Some said that the rise of Donald Trump as US president encouraged the extreme right and emboldened hate groups.
But the arrest of the Jewish teenager, a dual American-Israeli citizen, has complicated the anti-Semitism debate.
In previous court hearings, his lawyer claimed the defendant had a brain tumor and is on the autistic spectrum, which might have affected his behavior. She said his condition had prevented her client from attending elementary school, high school or enlisting in the army, which is compulsory for most Jewish men.
His parents have also argued that he is unfit to stand trial, though they have apologized for his alleged crimes.