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Serial killing suspect agrees to go to Michigan to face charges

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Serial stabbing suspect in court
  • Elias Abuelazam declined to change his plea at a second hearing
  • He is linked to 18 stabbings in Michigan, Virginia and Ohio, police say
  • Authorities say he was in custody twice before they knew he was a suspect
  • He was arrested this week at the airport in Atlanta on suspicion of killing five people

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) -- Serial killing suspect Elias Abuelazam agreed in an Atlanta courtroom Friday to be sent back to Michigan to face charges.

Abuelazam did not appear in court for a second hearing, which had been scheduled because his lawyer had not arrived in time to attend the first. His attorney, Edwar Zeineh, agreed to allow his client to return to Michigan, where the lawyer is based.

"We look forward at this point for the criminal justice process to commence ... and in the end provide a result," Zeineh told reporters outside the courthouse.

Abuelazam is suspected of slashing 18 victims in three states, killing five.

He is charged in Michigan with one count of assault with intent to commit murder, Zeineh said.

Abuelazam agreed in Friday's first hearing to waive an extradition hearing, a court proceeding in which Michigan would have made its case on why he should be returned and Abuelazam could have argued why he should not.

The towering suspect, dressed in a black jail jumpsuit, seemed confused in the morning session as to what the hearing was about and what his options were.

At one point he asked Fulton County Superior Court Magistrate Judge Richard Hicks what extradition means.

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Michigan authorities will have 15 working days to pick him up and deliver him to the state.

Tracy Flanagan, an official with the Fulton County Sheriff's Office, said the extradition paperwork on Abuelazam is complete.

"The suspect is ready for pickup by Michigan authorities and they have been notified. No word on when they're coming. This all depends on how quickly they can coordinate transport," Flanagan said.

Abuelazam, an Israeli citizen living legally in the United States, was arrested Wednesday night at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. He was trying to board a flight to Israel when he was taken into custody, police said.

Police had Abuelazam in custody twice in the past month, both within hours of when stabbings were reported, but he was released. Police say he hadn't been linked to the bloody attacks at the time.

He was arrested on August 5 after a traffic stop and on July 29 for giving alcohol to a minor, according to authorities and court documents.

During the traffic stop in Arlington, Virginia, police arrested him after learning that he had an outstanding warrant for assault. They found a knife and hammer in his car -- both weapons authorities now think were used during a string of stabbings in Michigan, Virginia and Ohio.

One of those attacks happened in Virginia just hours after Abuelazam was released.

Police say he had not been linked at that time to the stabbings, which began in May and continued until last weekend. Family members of the victims told CNN they do not blame officials for not holding Abuelazam initially.

Stephanie Ward, a sister of one of the victims in Flint, said she couldn't understand why someone would kill her brother, Arnold Minor.

"Why? That's what we all want to know. How could you do that?" she asked.

Most of the stabbing victims were black. Although federal officials said late on Thursday it was too soon to give a motive, Leesburg, Virginia, Police Chief Joseph Price said he believed the attacker was targeting African-Americans.

"For our community ... when you look at our demographics and you look at the victims here, my belief is he selected the victims in Leesburg based on the color of their skin," Price said.

Abuelazam also was cited by police in Michigan. He was fined $125 for providing alcohol to a minor on July 29, the same day an early morning stabbing was reported in the area.

A tip eventually led Michigan police this week to a market where the suspect worked, said prosecutor David S. Leyton of Genesee County, Michigan. After talking with employees, police watched surveillance video to determine whether he matched the physical description of the attacker.

In Louisville, Kentucky, authorities learned Abuelazam had bought a $3,000 ticket from Atlanta to Tel Aviv, Israel, paid for by his uncle.

The man was traveling on an expired Israeli passport but was in the United States legally, said a federal law enforcement official involved in the investigation.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said they arrested Abuelazam at 10 p.m. as he attempted to board the Delta flight bound for Tel Aviv. A homeland security official told CNN the National Targeting Center had found his name on the passenger list.

Authorities have said the same person is responsible for three recent attacks in Leesburg, the stabbing deaths of five people and woundings of nine others in the Flint, Michigan, area, and a stabbing on Saturday that wounded a man in Toledo, Ohio.

Most of the 14 victims in Michigan were African-American, police said. Flint is a majority African-American community. In majority-white Leesburg, two victims were black and one was Latino.

Several of the victims were also developmentally disabled, police said.

Abuelazam once worked at North Spring Behavioral Healthcare in Leesburg, the center said Friday.

"His employment at North Spring ended in 2008," Scott Zeiter, the center's chief executive, said in a statement. "We understand that he may be a suspect in certain crimes committed in 2010. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families."

The Michigan attacks took place from May 24 through August 2. The three attacks in Virginia occurred Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of last week.

The Michigan victims ranged in age from 17 to 60, authorities said. All were men, and in two cases they were people with special needs.

The suspect is said to have approached victims who were walking during the early morning hours, asking for directions or other assistance to lure them close to his car, police said. Sgt. Bill Wauford of the Toledo Police Department said the method of attack in the Ohio case matched that described in the Michigan incidents.

The five Michigan fatalities have been identified as David Motley, Emmanuel Dent, Darwin Marshall, Frank Kellybrew and Arnold Minor.

"We ought to remember the victims in all of this," prosecutor Leyton said. "You have real people who have died and real families who have been torn apart. Our heart goes out to them."

Investigators said more charges are expected.

CNN's Susan Candiotti and Jeanne Meserve contributed to this report.