RAMLE, Israel – The man accused of going on a three-state stabbing spree in the United States was also a suspect in a stabbing near his hometown in Israel. But what drove Elias Abuelazam remains a mystery: Relatives describe a shy man from a respected family who had recently become despondent.
Profilers say the case is baffling because, despite five deaths, murder did not appear to be the goal.
Abuelazam is suspected of attacking people in Michigan, Ohio and Virginia, leaving 13 people wounded in addition to the dead. He was arrested Wednesday in Atlanta as he prepared to board a flight to his native Israel, where relatives said he lived until his family sent him to the U.S. when he was 18.
The 33-year-old man appeared briefly in an Atlanta courtroom Friday and agreed to return to Michigan to face an attempted murder charge in one of the attacks – a July 27 stabbing in Flint, Mich., that put the victim in the hospital for a week.
Authorities said more charges were expected.
A family member in this poverty-stricken community said Abuelazam had become unhappy about his personal life in recent months. And others in the Arab neighborhood where he grew up expressed shock that the man they knew could be a suspect in the gruesome attacks.
During Friday’s court hearing, Abuelazam was expressionless as he responded to questions from the judge. He initially said he wanted to stay in Georgia. But after the judge explained the process further, Abuelazam agreed to waive his extradition rights and go back to Michigan.
Israeli police said Abuelazam was believed to have stabbed a close acquaintance in the face with a screwdriver during an argument in a parked car about six months ago. The commander said police dropped the case because the victim refused to cooperate with investigators.
Abuelazam’s most recent visit to Ramle came earlier this year, and he returned to the U.S. in the spring, shortly before the stabbing spree began in Flint, 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.