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Published: Friday, 8/13/2010

Israeli suspect in serial stabbings arrested

BY MIKE SIGOV AND BRIDGET THARP
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

FLINT, Mich. - The family of Anthony "Tony" Leno expressed relief in Toledo on Thursday as an Israeli citizen was arrested and identified as his suspected assailant and the suspected serial killer accused in five murders and 12 attacks in two other states.

Although Mr. Leno remains hospitalized in critical condition from his stabbing injuries on Saturday night, Lanita Braswell said she "got chills" when she learned the man accused of stabbing her fiance was in custody.

"I'm getting goose bumps again," she said. "Having him off the streets, it's a blessing. God has a plan, and his plan was not to let him get away with this."

Arrested was Elias Abuelazam, 33, who had been living in Michigan. He had a green card and had been working at a carryout in Beecher, Mich., and living near Flint since May in a home owned by his uncle. Before that, he had lived in Florida, in another of his uncle's residences.

Authorities said they did not have a motive for the attacks.

The suspect was arrested late Wednesday at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as he was preparing to board Delta Air Lines Flight 152 to Tel Aviv, authorities said.

He was being held in the Fulton County, Georgia, jail, awaiting extradition to Michigan. That could occur as early as today if he waives extradition proceedings, or it could take several weeks.

Chris Perry, director of Detroit field operations for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, said the suspect was positively identified through fingerprints left at crime scenes in both Flint and Leesburg, Va., where most of the crimes occurred.

The green Chevrolet Blazer that had been reported at most crime scenes was found at a home in Genesee County, Michigan, officials said.

Michigan State Police received an anonymous tip Wednesday about a possible subject who matched a composite sketch.

The suspect flew on Wednesday from Detroit to Louisville and then to Atlanta. He was apprehended at a boarding gate at the Atlanta airport. He was wearing a white T-shirt with an Amsterdam gym logo on it when he was arrested.

In his possession was a ticket to Tel Aviv that cost more than $3,000 and which was purchased by the uncle who lives in Flint and who is cooperating with police.

Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton opened a news conference yesterday by announcing the suspect has been charged with assault with intent to murder for a July 27 incident in Flint - with more charges expected to follow.

"We plan to be thorough in the investigation," Mr. Leyton said.

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, and one in Toledo.

They did lower the number of victims in the Flint area by two yesterday, saying one crime was a robbery and the other involved a person who withdrew charges.

Geneva Peterson, 51, of Mount Morris, Mich., was shopping at the Kingwater Market liquor store in Beecher, Mich., yesterday afternoon when she said she learned a suspect in the stabbings had been arrested.

"I am glad that they have caught him," said Ms. Peterson, who said she knew the suspect by his first name from employment there.

"Now I am relieved. But I was very much afraid. At first, I [even] couldn't sleep at night."

Ms. Peterson recalled the suspect as "a quiet, humble man."

Others in the community shared both her fears and her relief upon news of an arrest.

"It's all dark [at night] down there where I live. So I would lock all the doors and windows and go to bed an hour earlier, at 8 p.m.," Joseph McDuffie, 58, of Flint, said. "And I didn't go out much during the day."

Authorities said Mr. Abuelazam started working at Kingwater Market outside of Flint in May.

Mr. Leyton said the last time Mr. Abuelazam worked at the store was late Aug. 1 through early Aug. 2, when he allegedly left, telling a co-worker that he was leaving for Virginia. An anonymous tip later led police to the store, which was instrumental in establishing the suspect's identity, the prosecutor said.

The suspect was initially arrested in Arlington, Va., on Aug. 5 on an outstanding warrant for misdemeanor assault involving a brother-in-law who lives in that area. At the time, investigators said they found a hammer and a knife in the green Chevy S-10 Blazer he was driving.

The vehicle was returned to him when he was released but it was later tied to an address in Michigan, authorities said.

Mr. Leyton said the suspect is then believed to have driven north from Virginia and stopped in Toledo, where he is accused of stabbing Mr. Leno 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, during which time the victims were alone and the streets deserted. The suspect would drive up and say that his vehicle was broken down or 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 that he will wait for direction from Michigan authorities regarding the Toledo attack.

Investigators don't have answers to all their questions, including the suspect's motive, he said. Toledo Police Detective Jim Couch spent most of yesterday with investigators in Flint, Mich.

"Absent a confession, forensic evidence will be critical to the filing of charges," Chief Navarre said.

Lucas County prosecutors soon will confer with their counterparts in Michigan and Virginia to discuss the case, Lucas County Assistant Prosecutor John Weglian said.

In Toledo, Mr. Leno was taking a smoke break from his job cleaning the Collingwood Presbyterian Church before he was stabbed multiple times by a man who asked him for directions.

The Rev. Robert Anderson of Collingwood Presbyterian Church said Mr. Leno remained in critical condition on a ventilator in the surgical critical care unit of a local hospital yesterday.

The news of the arrest was a boost for his family, who have kept vigil at his bedside since the attack, he added.

The church is hosting a spaghetti dinner fund-raiser Aug. 29 to offset Mr. Leno's housing and medical expenses, Mr. Anderson said.

"I'm delighted they were able to apprehend someone, a suspect, and the church is delighted," Mr. Anderson said.

"It says one thing - that it wasn't anybody local and it wasn't about Tony, and it isn't reflective of our community."

Contact Mike Sigov at:

sigov@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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