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Police: Man suspect in Israel attack

Photo by Erik S. Lesser

Photo by Erik S. Lesser

RAMLE, Israel -- Israeli police said Friday the suspect in stabbings in three 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, Mich., 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.

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 agreed to the request and scheduled another hearing for Friday afternoon in Atlanta.

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.