RAMLE, Israel (AP) — Israeli police said Friday the suspect in stabbings in the United States also was a suspect in a separate stabbing attack in Israel earlier this year, but charges were never pressed.
A senior police commander said Elias Abuelazam was believed to have stabbed a close acquaintance during an argument in a parked car in central Israel about six months ago. The commander said police dropped the case because the victim refused to cooperate with investigators.
The commander spoke on condition of anonymity because he was barred from speaking to the media under official policy.
Abuelazam is suspected of attacking people in Michigan, Ohio and Virginia, leaving five people dead and 13 wounded. He was arrested Wednesday in Atlanta as he prepared to board a flight to his native Israel.
The 33-year-old man appeared in an Atlanta courtroom on Friday, agreeing during a brief hearing to return to Michigan to face charges in one of the attacks — an attempted murder in a July 27 knife strike in Flint, Michigan, that put the victim in a hospital for a week. Authorities said more charges were expected in the three states.
Abuelazam, who was expressionless as he responded to questions from Judge Richard Hicks, first told Hicks he wanted to stay in Georgia and face the charges. But Hicks told him he would have to return to Michigan if he wanted to fight them.
WATCH NBC NIGHTLY NEWS COVERAGE OF THE SERIAL STABBER SUSPECT:
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After Hicks explained the process further, Abuelazam agreed to waive an extradition fight, a process that could take months, and go back to Michigan.
“All right, then I’ll do so,” he said. “It sounds more logical to go right now than in 90 days.”
But moments after the hearing ended, Abuelazam’s attorney called Fulton County Superior Court to request another hearing. Hicks appeared in the courtroom later Friday and said Abuelazam had waived extradition.
In Ramle, a hardscrabble Israeli town southeast of Tel Aviv with a mixed Jewish-Arab population, residents in the Arab neighborhood where Abuelazam grew up expressed shock that the shy son of a respected family could be a suspect in such a gruesome crime spree.
“I wouldn’t believe it even if I saw it with my own eyes,” said Abuelazam’s cousin, also named Elias Abuelazam. He said the news had devastated the suspect’s mother. “I was there last night. She couldn’t stand up. She took medicine to reduce her blood pressure. She was hysterical.”
But the senior Israeli police official said Abuelazam was believed to be the attacker in the car stabbing months ago. The official said he and the close acquaintance got into an argument and Abuelazam pulled out a screwdriver and stabbed the other man in the face.
The official said Ramle police investigated, but because the victim refused to press charges, authorities could not arrest Abuelazam.
Ramle’s 3,000-member Arab Christian community is extremely tight knit, and residents were cautious about discussing Abuelazam’s past.
The Flint stabbings started in May, shortly after Abuelazam is believed to have returned to the U.S. from Israel, with the attacker approaching men on lonely roads at night and asking for directions or help with a broken-down car. Then he would pull out a knife, plunge it into his victim and speed away.
A tip — one of more than 500 — led police this week to a market in Mount Morris Township, outside Flint, where Abuelazam had worked for a month. Investigators talked to employees, and a store video showed that he matched the description of the man wanted by authorities.
Abuelazam, however, was gone: He told people he was off to Virginia and hadn’t been seen since his Aug. 1 shift.
Police in Arlington, Virginia, stopped him for a traffic offense Aug. 5 and arrested him on a 2008 misdemeanor assault charge from Leesburg, Virginia, where he had lived and worked in the mental-health field. A hammer and a knife were found inside the Chevrolet Blazer, which was returned to him after his brief detention. There was no national alert for Abuelazam or his vehicle.
Virginia authorities “had no idea at that time that he was involved in these crimes,” Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton in Michigan said.
Abuelazam eventually returned to Michigan, obtained a $3,000 ticket to Tel Aviv from his uncle and made it as far as Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where officers snatched the man in flip-flops and shorts after he was paged over the intercom.
The youngest victim was 15; the oldest 67. At least 15 victims were black, although there’s no evidence that race played a role, Leyton said. A motive was not known.
Abuelazam is charged with attacking Antwione Marshall of Flint, who said he was going into his apartment building two weeks ago when an assailant approached and asked for help with his car. Three of his organs were cut, and he has a long scar from his chest to his pelvic area.
Marshall, 26, said he wants to retaliate but “I’ll let God handle it. Every time I look at my scar, I get angry.”
Killed were David Motley, 31, Emmanuel A. Muhammad, 59, Darwin Marshall, 43, and Arnold R. Minor, 49, all of Flint, and Frank Kellybrew, 60, of Flint Township. They died before Aug. 4, when authorities concluded the attacks were the work of a serial killer.
Even if the assaults are over, at least some fear remains in Flint, the battered industrial city 14 of the stabbings, including all five deaths, occurred.
“It makes you not want to give anybody a hand with a vehicle if it breaks down,” Aldridge Gardner, 46, said as he waited for a bus. “If it was a female, I would help her. If it was a guy, no, I’d be skeptical.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.