An Arab Israeli has been arrested in the US on suspicion of killing five people and wounding 13 in a stabbing spree that spanned across three US states. Most of the men who were attacked were black and US police said Thursday that they believe the suspect chose victims based on the color of their skin.

33 year-old Elias Abuelazam was detained late Wednesday in Atlanta while he was trying to board a flight to Tel Aviv. He was arrested at the departure gate, after being paged by a Delta Airlines representative and getting up to identify himself.

Police suspect Abuelazam is behind the attacks that have taken place over the last two-and-a-half months in Michigan, Ohio and Virginia. It is alleged that his method of operation was to approach a lone man on a city street late at night, ask for directions or help with his car, and then to attack the person viciously, usually with a knife, according to a report on AFP.

The first attack was in late May in Flint, Michigan, when a 31-year-old black man was stabbed. Over the next two months, 13 more men were attacked by the serial stabber in and around Flint. Five of them died. In early August, three attacks were reported in Leesburg, Virginia, and one in Toledo, Ohio.

Abuelazam is an Arab Israeli citizen who is living in the US with a green card. However, most media outlets in the US who reported the story mentioned that Abuelazam is an Israeli but did not mention that he is an Arab Israeli.

Police added that Abuelazam had a previous criminal record and had been arrested in 2007 for illegal gun possession, though the charges against him had been dropped. The Flint Journal reported that he has had several brushes with the law in the past, including having his drivers licence suspended, giving alcohol to a minor and simple assault.

He was identified to be the suspect of the stabbings through fingerprints. The investigation continues and police are also searching for possible connections with other stabbing incidents, said a report on MSNBC.

Relatives of Abuelazam responded to his arrest on Thursday, saying they are convinced that he is innocent.

“He's an exemplary person, pleasant and quiet," said the relatives. "The whole family is in shock. We’re sure he’s being framed.”