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FLINT, Mich. — Members of a task force have arrested an Israeli citizen who was living in Michigan and identified him as a suspect in five murders and 13 stabbings in three states, including one in Toledo.
Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton opened a Thursday afternoon news conference by announcing the suspect has been charged with assault and intent to murder — with more charges expected to follow.
"We plan to be thorough in the investigation," Mr. Leyton said.
The man has been identified as Elias Abuelazam, 33, who was living in the United States and had a green card. He had been staying near Flint since May in a home his uncle owned and was working at a carryout north of the city.
Calling the incidents "crimes of opportunity," authorities said they have no motives for the 14 attacks in the Flint area, as well as three in Leesburg, Va. and one in Toledo. They did lower the number of victims in the Flint area by two on Thursday, saying one crime was a robbery and the other involved a suspect that the victim knew.
Task force investigators said Thursday that they had been told recently that the suspect was planning to go to Virginia. He was arrested in Arlington, Va. on Aug. 5 on an outstanding warrant for assault. At that time, investigators said they found a hammer and a knife in the green Blazer that he was driving.
The Blazer was given back to him when he was released but it was later tied to an address in Michigan.
Mr. Leyton said the suspect is then believed to have driven north and stopped in Toledo, where he is accused of stabbing a man about 8 p.m. Saturday.
"All of these crimes appear to be crimes where he preys on opportunistic situations," Mr. Leyton said.
He said the patterns of the crimes included late-night stabbings, at which time the victims were alone and the streets were deserted. The suspect would drive up and often ask for directions.
Most victims were black, but Mr. Leyton said there was no evidence the attacks were racially motivated.
Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre said Thursday morning that they will wait for direction from Michigan authorities regarding the Toledo case.
"We will continue to work with them," the chief said. "We've been on the phone this morning. It may be possible that it won't be necessary for us to go up there [today]. At some point we will."
Lucas County prosecutors will soon confer with their counterparts in Michigan's Genessee County, where five of the stabbing murders and about a dozen other attacks occurred, and in Virginia's Loudoun County, where three of the attacks occurred, Chief Navarre added.
In Toledo, church custodian Anthony "Tony" Leno was stabbed multiple times Saturday night by a man who asked him for directions.
The suspect was arrested late Wednesday at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as he was preparing to board a Delta Air Lines flight to Tel Aviv, Israel, authorities said.
It could be several days before the suspect is extradited to Michigan, officials in Flint said on Thursday.
In addition to an uncle in Flint, authorities believe the suspect has ties to Leesburg.
They said that fingerprints left at crime scenes in both Flint and Leesburg matched the suspect.
Michigan State Police received an anonymous tip Wednesday providing information about a possible subject who matched a composite sketch.
The attacks started May 24 in Flint. After that time, the suspect is believed to have headed south. Similar attacks against three men occurred in Leesburg on Aug. 3, 5, and 6, authorities have said.
The police agencies involved have issued several nationwide bulletins to law enforcement to report similar stabbing attacks that may be linked to the suspect.
The suspect approached his victims by asking for directions or help with his vehicle, identified as a green Chevy S-10 Blazer with a tan or gold trim and two grapefruit-sized dents on the hood, police have said.
A vehicle that closely matched the suspect's vehicle has been seized by investigators with the Flint State Police Task Force, and is being processed by Michigan State Police Crime Lab technicians from the Bridgeport State Police Crime Lab.
In addition, search warrants were executed at two residences in the Flint area in conjunction with the ongoing investigation.