Police in northern Virginia say a suspect in a string of 20 stabbings in three states was arrested last week during a traffic stop and later released.
Arlington County police spokeswoman Detective Crystal L. Nosal said Thursday that Elias Abuelazam, who was driving, was pulled over on a routine traffic stop at 1:15 a.m. on Aug. 5.
Nosal says officers found that Abuelazam was wanted on a simple assault warrant out of Leesburg, Va. She says after booking him, a magistrate denied Abuelazam bond, and released him the same day on personal recognizance, meaning he would be responsible for returning to court.
Abuelazam is a suspect in a string of 20 stabbings that terrorized people across three states and left five dead was arrested at an airport as he tried to board a plane for Israel, officials said Thursday.
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A judge in Flint, Mich., where the attacks began in late May, signed a warrant Thursday charging Elias Abuelazam with assault with intent to murder in connection with a July 27 stabbing.
But it was not clear if Abuelazam was the man arrested late Wednesday at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
That man, whom authorities have not named, was stopped while trying to board a Delta Air Lines flight to Tel Aviv, Israel, said Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesman at U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Passengers on the flight said as they arrived Thursday in Tel Aviv that the suspect was arrested at the boarding gate shortly before takeoff. They said his name was called over a loudspeaker, and then six police officers led him away without incident.
The suspect has ties to Flint and to Leesburg, Va., the site of three similar attacks last week, Leesburg Police Officer Chris Jones said.
"While this is a key step in the investigation, there are still many issues that need to be addressed before we identify this individual as the person responsible for this horrific crime spree," Jones said.
The suspect is an Israeli citizen who is in the U.S. legally, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the ongoing investigation.
Police had focused their hunt on Flint--where 16 stabbings took place--until Leesburg police reported three attacks. Authorities in Toledo, Ohio, say a stabbing in that city Saturday appears to be linked to the violent spree.
Atlanta authorities got involved when the suspect was arrested at the airport, said Atlanta Police spokesman Carlos Campos.
"It's not our investigation," he said. "We simply were involved in the apprehension."
The Israeli consulate in Atlanta was in touch with the U.S. government to get information about the case, spokeswoman Amanda Flaks said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, a task force led by the Michigan State Police and including the FBI had received 469 tips.
The attacks began surfacing in late spring, and picked up the pace as the stabber traversed the country.
Police have said they usually follow a pattern: The suspect approaches black men late at night on lonely urban roads and asks for directions or help with a broken-down car. Then, without warning, he pulls out a knife and strikes. Then, he speeds away in his vehicle, leaving them for dead.
The brazen nature and the frequency of the attacks-- the assailant has struck an average of about once every four days since the first stabbing in May--has terrified some of those in cities he's already targeted.
The victims have been mostly black, and police suspect the attacks may have been racially motivated. The youngest victim was 17; the oldest was 60. They ranged in size from 5-foot-4 inches and 120 pounds to 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds.