Israeli-American Who Terrorized U.S. Jews With Thousands of Bomb Threats Jailed for 10 Years

The 19-year-old was charged with making thousands of bomb threats, including to a United States senator, as well as to airports, schools and Jewish centers in the U.S. in 2016 and early 2017

The hacker in court, June 2018.
Meged Gozani

An Israeli-American hacker who terrorized U.S. Jews with bomb threats was sentenced on Thursday by a Tel Aviv District Court judge to 10 years in prison.

The 19-year old was charged with making thousands of bomb threats, including to a United States senator, as well as to airports, schools and Jewish centers in the U.S. in 2016 and early 2017.

The hoax threats forced widespread evacuations and stirred fear of resurgence of anti-Semitism.

The hacker, whose name was withheld from publication, was arrested in March 2017 with the help of the FBI. An Israeli court convicted him in June of all counts committed when he was no longer a minor, from 2016 onwards.

>> Bomb threat suspect’s identity embarrassing for Jews, but ultimately a relief | Analysis ■ LISTEN: This is one of the bomb threats allegedly made by Israeli-American teen against Jewish centers

The Israeli-American JCC bomb hoax suspect, at a hearing in Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court, March 23, 2017.
Baz Ratner/Reuters

Among other counts, he was convicted of extortion, conspiracy to commit a crime, money laundering and assaulting a police officer. According to the conviction, he made around 2,000 false terrorism threats from 2015 until his arrest in March 2017.

In addition to the 10-year prison term, the Tel Aviv court gave the hacker a year's probation and fined him 60,000 shekels ($16,000).

Among his targets was the Israeli embassy in Washington, the Israeli consulate in Miami, Jewish institutions, schools, malls, police stations, hospitals and airlines.

"One can imagine the terror, the fear and the dread that the airline passengers experienced when they were forced to make an emergency landing and when some were injured in the evacuation of the planes," Tel Aviv District Court Judge Zvi Gurfinkel noted, "the major inconvenience and fright caused when it was necessary to evacuate students from schools, following the hoax calls that there were bombs there; and the major public chaos and harm caused by the disruption and cancellation of flights following the hoax calls; the need to dispatch fighter aircraft to accompany the planes as they made an emergency landing, the need for planes to dump fuel over the ocean prior to landing."

The hacker, a resident of the coastal Israeli city of Ashkelon, used advanced technology to disguise his voice and conceal the origin of his calls, including by achieving control over remote computers. Among other things he would pay for the calls using bitcoin, a virtual currency that requires no identification to use.

He allegedly called in threats to schools in central Israel while he was in prison. 

At trial, the hacker did not deny his misdeeds but claimed he could not be held responsible and was not fit to stand trial due to his autism. He told Prison Service officials that boredom was responsible for his actions, which to him had been like a game, and expressed regret.

The judge dismissed the defense's argument that the defendant was unfit for trial due to a brain tumor that caused autism and other mental problems, and held him responsible for his actions.

In the sentencing ruling, the defendant was described as suffering from personality disorders from a young age that his parents refused to address. Earlier in life, he is said to have committed violent acts that the police investigated. Social welfare officials sought to have him diagnosed by a psychologist or psychiatrist but his parents adamantly refused, claiming that his problems were neurological.

A local social welfare official sought a court order to have him hospitalized and diagnosed, but to evade such as step, his parents returned with him to the United States, where his parents said the brain tumor was diagnosed. They were advised later to have him examined by a psychiatrist rather than undergoing surgery, but that was not done prior to the acts that were the subject of the criminal case.

Subsequent psychiatric examinations found that he was on a spectrum of autism, but on the high end. "His functioning is high and there is a major disparity between his intellectual capabilities and his social skills," Judge Gurfinkel noted in his sentencing.

In response to a claim advanced by the hacker's lawyer, Yoram Sheftel, the judge said the investigation of the case was indeed flawed in that the police did not appoint a special investigator, which the judge said was required in such cases. But the investigation did address the defendant's mental fitness and health problems early on in the case and the police were aware of the claims by his family and lawyers, it was noted.

The teen was also indicted in the United States earlier this year. In Florida alone, he was charged with making multiple threatening calls about bomb threats and gun attacks against Jewish community centers throughout the state in January and February 2017. He also is alleged to have made bomb threats against the Orlando International Airport and a school. 

Reuters contributed to this report.