Israeli national Elias Abuelazam was detained by officers in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday before he could board a flight to Tel Aviv. The 33-year-old faces a charge of attempted murder for a July 27 knife attack in Flint, Michigan, that put the victim in hospital.
But Abuelazam is wanted in connection with a spate of violent attacks across three US states – including five stabbing murders. Authorities have said more charges are expected in Michigan, along with Ohio and Virginia.
Following his arrest the US resident appeared in an Atlanta court, where he said he wanted to stay in Georgia to face the charges against him. But Judge Richard Hicks said he would have to return to Michigan if he wanted to fight them. Abuelazam then agreed not to delay the process.
Meanwhile, there were reports that police in Israel suspected Abuelazam of a stabbing attack in Israel earlier this year – but he was never charged. He is thought to have knifed an acquaintance during an argument, but the case was dropped when the victim refused to help investigators.
Abuelazam’s relatives in Israel expressed shock that he was suspected of such violence. His 49-year-old cousin, also named Elias Abuelazam, said: “I wouldn’t believe it even if I saw it with my own eyes.” He described his relative as recently appeared to be unhappy and unsure what to do with his life: “He seemed confused,” Mr Abuelazam added. The suspect’s mother was said to be devastated by news of his arrest, as she had been waiting to pick him up from the airport. “She couldn’t stand up … She was hysterical,” Abuelazam’s cousin said.
In a brief radio interview in Israel, she described her son as a “religious, God-fearing man” and refused to believe he was a killer. Back in the US, authorities were trying to play down earlier suggestions the attacks Abuelazam’s was suspected of were racial motivated.