A man believed to be responsible for at least 20 attacks that led to five deaths in Michigan and Virginia was arrested on Aug. 11 as he was trying to board a plane to Israel.
According to the Associated Press, officers from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehended, Elias Abuelazam, a 33-year-old Israeli, as he attempted to board a Delta flight in Atlanta bound for Tel Aviv. Following his arrest, he was later handed over to Atlanta Police and the FBI.
Officials said leads as to Abuelazam’s whereabouts poured in over the past week, with the latest one pointing to Atlanta.
Authorities date the attacks from May when 16 men were attacked. Subsequently, three attacks occurred in Virginia and one happened in Toledo. All but two of the victims are Black.
According to the Detroit News, authorities said Abuelazam was employed at a Flint-area party store. The manager of the business said Abuelazam spoke a Palestinian dialect and told the manager he was from Israel. Authorities also believe the suspect has ties to the Leesburg, Va. area.
Detectives in Flint, a predominately Black city, have not labeled the attacks as hate crimes. But in Leesburg, which is predominantly White, authorities say otherwise.
“I believe his motivation is pure hatred,” Leesburg Police Chief Joseph Price told reporters at a news conference, according to the Associated Press. At the press event, Price showed a video of the vehicle driven by the assailant following an attack on a 19-year-old with a hammer.
According to the CBS affiliate WNEM, all of the victims were outside and alone at night. Survivors of the attacks say the assailant either pretended to need directions or help with his vehicle before pulling out a knife and attacking.
Abdullah Farah, manager of the store where Abuelazam was employed, says he hired him to work the night shift. The Aug. 3 attacks in Leesburg occurred two days after Abuelazam requested time off to see his sister, who he said lived in Virginia.
“This is a big surprise. There was no hostility, nothing,” Farah told the Detroit News.
A customer at the store where Abuelazam was employed said he spoke with Abuelazam two weeks ago and noticed scratches on his knuckles and said he had taped-up fingers. The customer said the suspect claimed he was in a fight.
Abuelazam will face state charges in Michigan and U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said a decision about federal charges has not yet been made. .