Police near JCC
Police near JCCReuters

The Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on Thursday convicted the young man from Ashkelon who threatened a long list of bodies and institutions in the United States, including a host of Jewish institutions.

The young man was convicted of extortion and threats, causing serious economic damage and giving false messages.

The indictment filed against the young man in April 2017 claimed that his goal was to cause considerable public panic, to call up many emergency forces to the threatened place, to cause urgent evacuation of the place, to conduct searches in the area, and to create a media response to the whole process. Indeed, in some cases flights were canceled and planes landed in emergency landings, while in other cases Jewish schools and institutions were evacuated and many security forces were called up.

In addition, the defendant offered through the “darknet” his services to intimidate, extort and threaten, and to send such emails in exchange for payment, with the customers asked to pay in the Bitcoin virtual currency, which prevents the possibility of tracking of the “money trail.” He published a price list for these services according to the desired destination of the calls (airlines, schools, police stations, etc.). The indictment attributes to the young man a financial gain of NIS 873,000 in Bitcoin. At one point, he hired two subcontractors to carry out some of the threat talks.

The first charge details 142 cases in which the young man called airports, airlines and police stations. He threatened and terrorized them by saying that on certain commercial flights, explosive devices that would soon explode had been hidden or that a shooting attack would be carried out. For example, the indictment describes a bomb threat on an El Al plane that made its way to Israel, as a result of which French and Swiss fighter jets were sent to escort and supervise the aircraft, so that if there were indications of the plane crashing in Switzerland, the aircraft would be intercepted in advance.

In another case, the defendant threatened an airport in Canada, and as a result of his threats, a passenger plane was diverted to another airport, and the passengers were quickly removed from the plane by an emergency evacuation by means of slides and six passengers were injured in the process. Another incident concerned the threat on a Virgin Australia flight, which led to the diversion of the plane to another airport due to the threat and the throwing of about 8 tons of fuel over the ocean before landing. In another case, he threatened the plane used by the Boston Celtics of the NBA while on its way to a game, which led to searches on the plane. In another case, he threatened that a bomb had been planted on an American Airlines internal flight in the US, leading to the landing of the plane and the evacuation of passengers who had to stay in hotels in the area for the night.

In the second charge, it was said that during those two years the young man had contacted 2,000 different organizations, including schools, shopping malls, police stations, hospitals, Jewish institutions, various public institutions, while using sophisticated means of concealing his identity, and threatened that terror attacks would take place at those places. For example, he threatened the Israeli consulate in Miami, and as a result of his threats, police forces were summoned to evacuate the consular personnel. In another case, the defendant threatened a hospital in New Jersey, and as a result of his threats many police forces arrived at the scene and patients were evacuated from the hospital.

According to the third charge, the young man called in 48 instances police stations, using sophisticated methods to disguise his identity. He threatened the police, falsely claiming that he held small children or family members as hostages at a certain address he gave to the police and that he intended to execute them in a short time and shoot police who arrived at the address. In some cases, police officers rushed to the address given by the defendant over the threats. For example, the defendant called and threatened New Jersey police that he was armed and was holding three children hostage and intended to shoot them in their heads, and at policemen who came to the scene.

Another indictment alleges that the young man threatened and even tried to extort money by threats from Ernesto Lopez, a Delaware senator in the United States, following a public condemnation issued by Lopez against his previous actions. In addition, he called and harassed a number of times George Little, a former US defense department official, among other things when he told him that he would kidnap his children and kill them.

The young man would document some of the acts of intimidation on his computers, while arranging the swatting operations according to the dates and types of institutions threatened, and documented some of the news reports about the panic caused by his actions. As mentioned above, the accused is charged with dozens of offenses of extortion by threats, publication of false information that causes fear and panic, computer offenses and money laundering.

In addition, the indictment includes a number of additional charges for other acts:

In the fifth charge, the young man is accused of carrying a weapon, assaulting a policeman and assault causing real injury. During his initial arrest at his home in Ashkelon, while conducting a search of the house and seizure of his computer, the defendant took over the pistol of one of the policewomen. The policemen subdued him and took the police pistol from his hands.

The sixth charge attributes to him an offense of providing means to commit a crime in the ‘darknet,” and describes how the young man offered to sell manuals and computerized kits and means to forge identity cards and official documents, to manufacture poisons, to manufacture drugs, to spread computer viruses, to break into Facebook and Whatsapp accounts, and to manufacture bombs and explosive devices.

A seventh charge attributes him to drug trafficking in the “darknet” by mediating between a drug dealer from Canada and drug buyers in the “darknet” and taking a commission from the sale of the drugs.