JERUSALEM - Israeli authorities have arrested a Jewish-American extremist suspected of carrying out a series of high-profile hate crimes, security officials said Sunday.
Police and Shin Bet security forces say Jack Teitel, a 37-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jewish West Bank settler, was behind the killing of two Arabs, the targeting of a peace activist and an attack on a breakaway Jewish sect over a period of 12 years.
Authorities originally suspected an extremist Jewish underground for some of the attacks. But acquaintances described Teitel, a father of four, as a lone wolf, and authorities say he acted alone.
Jerusalem police commander Aharon Franco said Teitel immigrated to Israel from Florida, and that he grew up on U.S. military bases as the son of a dentist serving in the Marines.
Franco said a joint police and Shin Bet operation nabbed Teitel earlier this month and he confessed to the crimes and re-enacted them. Police also displayed photos of a large weapons cache seized from the suspect's home.
"He is like a serial killer. This guy was a Jewish terrorist who targeted different types of people," said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. "He was deeply involved in terrorism in all different levels."
Results of the police investigation will be turned over to the state prosecutor to prepare an indictment.
In his most noted attack, Teitel is accused of sending a booby-trapped gift basket in March 2008 to the home of a family of American messianic Jews in Israel, who believe that Jesus is the Messiah but still consider themselves Jewish.
The explosion seriously wounded the family's 15-year-old son, Ami Ortiz, severing two toes, damaging his hearing and harming his promising basketball career.
"We are horrified by the fact that there are elements of Israeli society, Jews who feel justified in taking the lives of other Jews because of their beliefs," said Ami's mother, Leah Ortiz. "We hope and pray that justice will be done in this case."
Teitel is also accused of carrying out a pipe bomb attack in September 2008 that wounded a prominent Israeli professor and peace activist, Zeev Sternhell, an expert on the history of fascism who had spoken out against West Bank settlements.
Responding to news of the arrest, Sternhell said, "I hope the system deals with this terrorist as it deals with all other terrorists, Jewish and Arab alike."
Police also accused Teitel of killing a Palestinian taxi driver and a Palestinian farmer in 1997, and of stabbing and wounding an Arab in Jerusalem whom he suspected of making sexual advances. He also attempted to bomb police stations and patrols because they provided security for gay pride parades.
Such hate crimes are relatively rare in Israel. The most notable Israeli hate criminals were Ami Popper, who killed seven Palestinian laborers at an Israeli bus stop in 1990, and Yona Avrushmi, who threw a grenade into a peace rally in 1983, killing a participant.
Teitel is not suspected of being responsible for the shooting attack against a gay youth center in Tel Aviv in August, in which two people were killed, though police said he confessed to that attack as well.
Teitel arrived in Israel from the U.S. a decade ago and has lived in the West Bank settlement of Shvut Rachel, north of Jerusalem, for the past six years, his brother-in-law Moshe Avitan said.
Avitan said Teitel was a loner who spoke no Hebrew and rarely expressed political opinions. He worked from home in the computer field and has a degree in business.
Teitel's lawyer, Adi Keidar, told Israel's Channel 2 TV that his client is "mentally disturbed."