— Authorities in Atlanta are holding a man in custody presumed to be the attacker responsible for 18 stabbing incidents, including 14 incidents and five homicides in and around the Flint area, three victims in Leesburg, Va., and one in Toledo, Ohio.
Elias Abuelazam, 33, was taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at 10 p.m. Aug. 11 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
A statement from Michigan State Police in Flint stated Abuelazam had not boarded his plane, reportedly headed to Tel Aviv, Israel, prior to being taken into custody by law enforcement officials, and he offered no resistance.
State police received an anonymous tip on Wednesday providing information on a possible match to a sketch released by police on Aug. 5. A task force, including City of Flint and Michigan State Police investigators, tracked the lead to the airport in Atlanta. He was tracked upon leaving Detroit Metropolitan Airport to Louisville and then onto Atlanta before his capture. He is currently detained in Atlanta’s Fulton County Jail awaiting extradition, which Abuelazam has decided to waive.
During an Aug. 12 press conference at the Flint Township Police Department, Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said Abuelazam has been charged with one count of assault with intent to murder from the stabbing of a 26- year-old African-American male, but more charges are expected in the coming days.
Two stabbing incidents believed tied to the list — stretching from May 24 to Aug. 7 — were removed; one victim later told police he knew his assailant, while another stabbing involving a robbery did not fit the pattern, Leyton said. The suspect is believed to have moved to Flint in May, previously having lived and worked in Florida.
“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,” reads a statement from Leesburg, Va., police spokesperson Chris Jones on the department’s website. Abuelazam is believed to have committed three attacks in the town situated a little less than an hour northwest of Washington, D.C. “All agencies and investigators continue to work closely to bring this investigation to a successful conclusion.”
Police in Arlington, Va., had arrested Abuelazam on Aug. 5, following a traffic stop for failure to obey a traffic sign, on an outstanding warrant for a misdemeanor assault charge. A knife and hammer, which authorities said may have been used during the attacks, were found in his Blazer. Abuelazam and his vehicle were later released.
“At that point in time, nobody knew that this was this individual,” Leyton said. “He just had an outstanding warrant and then was released.” Police have said Abuelazam returned home to Flint on Saturday, following another alleged stabbing attack in Toledo, Ohio.
A vehicle closely matching the description given out by police has been seized by authorities and is being processed by State Police Crime Lab technicians from the Bridgeport State Police Crime Lab. The vehicle was taken from a home on Maryland Avenue in Flint, which police have searched for evidence in connection with the case along with another residence in the Flint area, both of which are owned by the suspect’s uncle.
Leyton said authorities believe the uncle, who has been cooperating with police, bought Abuelazam the plane ticket he was using to travel to Israel. Abuelezam is a native of Israel, Leyton said, with a valid green card. Leyton reiterated there is not sufficient evidence to say the stabbing attacks were racially motivated in nature, there are no connections to terrorism and police have yet to develop any kind of motive.
In the midst of the capture, Leyton said the victims of the incidents should not be forgotten.
“Victims of these crimes should be in our thoughts and prayers, he said. “Five people from our community are gone and we pray for their families.”