Israel convicts hacker who threatened US Jewish centers

The US Justice Department has named him as Michael Kadar. (Reuters)
Updated 29 June 2018
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 Israel convicts hacker who threatened US Jewish centers

  • Kadar’s arrest in March 2017 followed a trans-Atlantic investigation with the FBI and other international law enforcement agencies.
  • Police said Michael Ron David Kadar, from southern Israel, used advanced technologies to mask the origin of his calls and communications to synagogues, community buildings and public venues.

JERUSALEM: An Israeli court on Thursday convicted a Jewish Israeli man on charges including extortion for making a string of bomb threats targeting US Jewish community centers, airlines and shopping malls — capping a case that had raised fears of a wave of anti-Semitism in the United States.
The Tel Aviv district court did not identify the man because he was a teen when he committed the crimes. But a separate US indictment has identified him as Michael Ron David Kadar, a dual American-Israeli citizen.
Kadar’s arrest in March 2017 followed a trans-Atlantic investigation with the FBI and other international law enforcement agencies.
Police said the 19-year-old, from southern Israel, used advanced technologies to mask the origin of his calls and communications to synagogues, community buildings and public venues.
In early 2017, there were dozens of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and day schools across the US and in Canada, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish group that battles anti-Semitism. The threats led to evacuations, sent a chill through local Jewish communities and raised fears of rising anti-Semitism.
The Israeli indictment said that besides the Jewish centers, Kadar also targeted airports, malls, police stations and Republican state Sen. Ernesto Lopez from Delaware. He also offered his intimidation services over the Internet in return for compensation in Bitcoin.
In all, Kadar was accused of making over 2,000 threats.
Among the allegations in the Israeli indictment were making a bomb threat against an El-Al flight to Israel that sparked fighter jets to be scrambled, and threatening a Canadian airport, which required passengers to disembark on emergency slides. Six people were injured. He was also accused of threatening a Virgin flight that as a result dumped eight tons of fuel over the ocean before landing, and threatening a plane being used by the NBA’s Boston Celtics.
According to court documents, the defense claimed the suspect was mentally ill and had acted out of boredom.
While finding him to be on the autism spectrum, the court said there were no signs of mental illness. It said he was highly intelligent and had gone to great lengths to cover up his acts, proving he understood right from wrong.
Police had said he used sophisticated “camouflage technologies” to disguise his voice and mask his location. They said a search of his home uncovered antennas and satellite equipment.
The judge wrote that investigators had determined the young man enjoyed making people panic and putting them in fear and stress.
Prosecutor Yoni Hadad said Kadar was convicted on charges including extortion, publishing false information, money laundering and violations of computer laws. “He caused panic and terrorized many people, and disrupted their lives,” he said.
It wasn’t immediately clear when Kadar would be sentenced or how much time behind bars he could face.
Defense lawyer Yoram Sheftel said his client was the first person with autism to be put on trial in Israel. “Our courts keep expanding the scope of convictions,” he said.
In the US, Kadar also faces federal hate crimes, bomb threats, hoax and cyberstalking charges that could potentially put him behind bars for decades, according to an indictment issued in February. Israel has reportedly refused a US request for extradition.
In a separate case, a US federal court sentenced Juan Thompson, a former journalist from St. Louis, to five years in prison for threatening Jewish organizations as part of a cyberstalking case against a former girlfriend.


As comedian eyes presidency, Ukraine braces for uncertain future

Presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a policy debate with his rival, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko (unseen), at the National Sports Complex Olimpiyskiy stadium in Kiev, Ukraine April 19, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 41 min 48 sec ago
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As comedian eyes presidency, Ukraine braces for uncertain future

  • Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old comic actor, is best known for his TV portrayal of a schoolteacher who becomes Ukrainian president after a video of him denouncing corruption goes viral

KIEV, Ukraine: A comedian who plays the role of Ukraine’s president on television is set to take on the job for real, pushing out the man who currently holds the office, according to public opinion surveys ahead of Sunday’s election.
Saturday was a so-called “day of quiet,” on which electioneering is forbidden, a respite from a campaign of heated statements and unexpected moments.
Dismayed by endemic corruption, a struggling economy and a five-year fight against Russia-backed insurgents in the country’s east, Ukrainian voters appear poised to strongly rebuke incumbent Petro Poroshenko and replace him with Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Despite never having held political office, Zelenskiy could get more than twice as many votes as Poroshenko, polls suggest.
Since Zelenskiy and Poroshenko advanced to Sunday’s runoff in the first round three weeks ago, the campaign has been marked by jockeying for dominance, including a dispute over holding a debate that left Poroshenko standing next to an empty lectern bearing his opponent’s name and Zelenskiy’s challenge for both of the candidates to undergo drug testing.
Zelenskiy has run his campaign mostly on social media and has eschewed media interviews; Poroshenko has called him a “virtual candidate.” Poroshenko in turn was criticized for a video linked to his campaign that showed Zelenskiy being run over by a truck.
The two finally held an actual debate on Friday evening, just hours before campaigning was to end. They harshly criticized each other and engaged in the melodrama of both kneeling to ask forgiveness of those who lost relatives in the eastern fighting.
In an unexpected move less than 10 hours before polls were to open, a Kiev court heard a suit demanding that Zelenskiy’s registration as a candidate be canceled. The court rejected the case, which was filed by the head of an organization that conducts election observation and claimed that Zelenskiy committed bribery by offering tickets to the Friday debate.
Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old comic actor, is best known for his TV portrayal of a schoolteacher who becomes Ukrainian president after a video of him denouncing corruption goes viral. The name of the show, “Servant of the People,” became the name of his party when he announced his candidacy in January.
Like his TV character, the real-life Zelenskiy has focused his campaign strongly on corruption. Although criticized as having a vague platform, Zelenskiy has made specific proposals, including removing immunity for the president, parliament members and judges, and a lifetime ban on holding public office for anyone convicted of corruption. He also calls for a tax amnesty under which someone holding hidden assets would declare them, be taxed at 5% and face no other measures.
He supports Ukraine’s eventual membership in NATO, but only if the country were to approve this in a referendum.
Zelenskiy has proposed that direct talks with Russia are necessary to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where fighting with Russia-backed separatist rebels has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014. The Kremlin denies involvement there and says it is an internal matter. Zelenskiy says Russia-annexed Crimea must be returned to Ukraine and compensation paid.
Zelenskiy’s image has been shadowed by his admission that he had commercial interests in Russia through a holding company, and by persistent speculation about links with oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who owns the television station that airs “Servant of the People.”
A Ukrainian court this week ruled that the nationalization of a bank once owned by Kolomoyskyi was illegal, leading to new concern about Zelenskiy’s possible ties to him.
Poroshenko, who entered politics after establishing a lucrative candy-making company, came to power with a pragmatic image in 2014 after mass protests drove the previous, Russia-friendly president to leave the country.
Five years later, critics denounce him for having done little to combat Ukraine’s endemic corruption. The war with Russia-backed separatists in the east grinds on with no clear strategy for ending it. And while his economic reforms may have pleased international lenders, they’ve left millions of Ukrainians wondering if they can find the money to pay their utility bills.
After his weak performance in the election’s first round, in which Zelenskiy got nearly twice as many votes, Poroshenko said he had taken voters’ criticism to heart. He has since made some strong moves, including the long-awaited creation of an anti-corruption court. He also ordered the dismissal of the governor of the corruption-plagued Odessa region, and fired the deputy head of foreign intelligence who reportedly has vast real estate holdings in Russia.
Poroshenko, 53, has positioned himself as a leader who will stand up to Russia. He has scored some significant goals for Ukraine’s national identity and its desire to move out of Russia’s influence.
He signed an association agreement with the European Union — which predecessor Viktor Yanukovych turned away from, setting off the 2014 protests. Ukrainians now can travel visa-free to the European Union, a significant perk. He has also pushed relentlessly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to be recognized as self-standing rather than just a branch of the Russian church.