Israeli police have arrested a 19-year-old Jewish man with dual American-Israeli citizenship as the main suspect in hundreds of bomb threats made against Jewish community centers in the US and worldwide.
In just the first three months of 2017, there have already been more than 160 bomb threats against Jewish organizations and day schools within the US, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The man arrested on Thursday in Israel is suspected of being behind most of those threats, in addition to threats against communities in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said that the suspect used advanced technologies to hide his identity and mask the origins of his calls to Jewish organizations.
It is still unclear why the suspect may have been motivated to make the hundreds of threats against Jewish communities. While there are few details currently known about the suspect, the Jerusalem Post reports that the he is not ultra-Orthodox and is not a member of the Israel Defense Forces.
The arrest was made with assistance from the FBI, who commended the work of the Israeli National Police in a statement issued on Thursday. The FBI statement said that investigating hate crimes is the agency’s “top priority” and that it will “continue to work to make sure all races and religions feel safe in their communities and in their places of worship.”
After Trump initially stayed silent on the bomb threats, the White House now emphasizes its commitment to investigating hate crimes
Jewish groups and community leaders had criticized President Donald Trump had been criticized for his initial silence on the wave of bomb threats and hate crimes — as Vox’s Tara Golshan has written, he did not comment on the the incidents with any specificity until his opening remarks to a joint session of Congress in late February, where he denounced the threats and recent attacks as “hate and evil.”
And shortly before he made those remarks, Buzzfeed reported that Trump was skeptical of the authenticity of the threats, hinting that they might be a “false flag” operation by his political opponents.
But following today’s arrest, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that "The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the civil rights of all Americans, and we will not tolerate the targeting of any community in this country on the basis of their religious beliefs."
Jewish leaders and organizations are expressing relief at the arrest, but fear still exists among communities
The suspect arrested today is not the first connected with recent threats against Jewish organizations. In early March, another man was arrested for cyberstalking and calling up to eight of the bomb threats against Jewish community centers. Juan Thompson, a former Intercept writer from Missouri, reportedly made the threats to “settle a personal score,” reported Vox’s Tara Golshan.
Jewish community leaders are expressing more relief now that another suspect has been caught. Jordan Shenker, head of a Jewish community center in New Jersey that was targeted by bomb threats, told the Associated Press that he is “cautiously optimistic” that the man arrested in Israel on Thursday acted alone and that the threats will be over.
The Anti-Defamation League, an organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism which had also received threats, responded on Twitter:
While Jewish organizations and community centers may be resting a bit easier, communities are still on high alert. Vox’s Sarah Wildman noted earlier this March that although no one has been killed in the surge of anti-Semitic incidents, there is still a “genuine and growing fear among American Jews that the country has entered into a new era where anti-Semitism has left the shadows and taken a louder, bolder place on the center stage of American society.”