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Elias Abuelazam serial stabber case befuddles experts

Criminologists say the serial stabber may be a hybrid criminal: someone who is motivated by the grievances of a mass killer but uses the tactics of a serial killer. Police arrested Elias Abuelazam in Atlanta Wednesday.

By Staff writer / August 13, 2010

Elias Abuelazam attends an extradition hearing in Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta Friday. Abuelazam, an Israeli citizen, is a suspect in several stabbing attacks in Michigan, Ohio and Virginia. He was arrested at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport before boarding a flight to Israel.

Erik S. Lesser/AP/pool



The arrest of Elias Abuelazam in connection with a series of 18 stabbings across Michigan, Ohio, and Virginia – five of them fatal – has so far offered no further clues into the potential motivation behind the 11-week spree of senseless violence.

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Mr. Abuelazam, a bulky Arab Christian from Israel living in the US on a green card, told an Atlanta judge Friday that he would not fight extradition to Michigan, where the majority of the attacks happened and where he has already been charged in one of the cases.

The facts of the cases are spare but perplexing to criminologists. Nearly all of the victims were black, but it is unclear whether race was a factor. Piecing together the shreds of information that exist, a criminologist suggests that the attacker may have been something of a hybrid – employing the tactics of a serial killer but harboring motives, such as hate, that more typically drive mass murderers.

"Whether it was directed at Americans in general or black Americans, I do think [the spree] was motivated by hate," says Jack Levin, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston and author of "Serial Killers and Sadistic Murderers: Up Close and Personal."

"The complicating factor here is that the defendant is not an American citizen," he says. "There is little doubt that he would have fit the category of a hate-motivated killer – someone who targeted black Americans out of racial animosity – but the fact that he was from Middle East also raises the possibility that he hated Americans."

Unusual profile

Police in Leesburg, Va., where three of the stabbings took place last week, have said that they believe Abuelazam was motivated by the dark color of the victims' skin. If true, that would be somewhat unusual.

Serial killers, who stalk multiple victims in multiple attacks, are rarely motivated by hate, but usually by sex, power, or profit. By contrast, mass murderers, who kill many people at once, are often driven by hate.

For instance, investigators say the primary suspect in the mass shootings at Fort Hood last year, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, was motivated by hate. Also, in the Hartford Distributors rampage earlier this month, accused gunman Omar Thornton killed eight people and then himself after complaining that his co-workers were racists.