18-year-old dual American-Israeli citizen was charged with making threatening calls Friday
He is alleged to have made the calls during a two-month stretch beginning in January
A young man accused of making a series of threatening phone calls to Jewish community centers earlier this year was charged in two federal complaints Friday.
The 18-year-old suspect, who holds dual Israeli and US citizenship, was arrested in Israel last month but police were still trying to determine his motive at the time.
“This kind of behavior is not a prank, and it isn’t harmless. It’s a federal crime,” said FBI Director James Comey in a statement on the case Friday. “It scares innocent people, disrupts entire communities and expends limited law enforcement resources.”
The threats rattled Jewish community centers, schools and other institutions across the United States and abroad, but the suspect is specifically being charged for threats made in Florida and Georgia.
For instance, the University of Georgia Police Department received a phone call in January that a home invasion was underway, one person had been shot in the chest and three people were being held hostage, according to details alleged in one of the complaints. Prosecutors say when police arrived on the scene they found that the residents of the home were safe and later determined the call was placed through third party services that provide voice alteration.
While there is no allegation from prosecutors that any of the threats were carried out, the federal complaints allege that the calls and emails prompted evacuations or lockdowns of the targeted facilities.
“These threats of violence instilled terror in Jewish and other communities across this country, and our investigation into these acts as possible hate crimes continues,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in the statement.
It was not immediately clear when the suspect will make his first US court appearance or where that will take place, as he is not yet in the country according to a department official.
The Anti-Defamation League welcomed the filing of criminal charges.
“These threats were hate crimes that sparked widespread fear in these intentionally-targeted Jewish community institutions – causing evacuations, significant service disruptions, program cancellations, and deep community anxiety,” the Jewish civil rights organization said in a statement. “We welcome the Justice Department and FBI’s commitment to follow the evidence that will now be uncovered and vigorously investigate these threats of violence as possible hate crimes, able to be prosecuted as such under American laws.”