Mixed picture of accused Israeli serial killer

Some called the man now suspected of being the serial stabber who killed five men in a two-and-a-half-month spree of violence, "the sweetest guy," but others said he had a dark, violent and abusive side, reports said.

WASHINGTON // Friends and ex-colleagues painted conflicting pictures Friday of Elias Abuelazam, the Israeli suspected of stabbing 18 men in a spree of violence across three US states. Some called the man now suspected of being the serial stabber who killed five men in a two-and-a-half-month spree of violence, "the sweetest guy," but others said he had a dark, violent and abusive side, reports said. Wendy Brooks, who worked with Abuelazam at a mental health care facility in Leesburg, Virginia for several years until 2002 told ABC News that he was "a gentle giant" who never lost his cool, even in the many stressful situations they had to deal with at the facility. "From what I saw, he was never too aggressive," Brooks said, adding that she sometimes sought out Abuelazam to "talk about a situation." Brooks, who is black, was surprised to hear that most of the victims Abuelazam is suspected of stabbing over a two-and-a-half month spree of random violence, were also black. "It's crazy. I never would've imagined anything like that," said Brooks. The suspected serial stabber's modus operandi was to approach a lone man on a city street late at night, ask for directions or help with his car, and then viciously attack the person, usually with a knife, according to reports. Kimberly Hirth, whose daughter was married to Abuelazam for three years, told the Washington Post that her former son-in-law was "just the sweetest guy." And his boss at a party goods store in Michigan called Abuelazam "a good guy... a friendly guy ... a nice guy." But others give a different picture of Abuelazam, suggesting a darker side. According to James Hirth, Abuelazam's ex-father-in-law, "there was a bit of abuse" in the marriage to his daughter, which ended in divorce in 2007. According to the Flint Journal, the local paper in the Michigan town where most of the attacks occurred, Abuelazam, 33, has had several brushes with the law, including having his driving licence suspended, giving alcohol to a minor and simple assault. On the day he was cited for giving alcohol to a minor -- July 29 -- a 59-year-old man was stabbed in Flint, the newspaper said. That attack came almost two months to the day that the attacks began in in Flint, when a 31-year-old black man was stabbed to death. Over the next two months, 13 more men, most of them black, were stabbed in similar attacks in and around Flint. Five of the attacks were fatal. Then, in August, three attacks were reported in Leesburg, Virginia, and one in Toledo, Ohio. The Leesburg police chief was quoted by the Flint ABC television affiliate as saying a hammer was used in one of the attacks there. In the other two, the victims were stabbed, he said. The attacker's method was reportedly the same as in the Michigan stabbings. In Virginia, Abuelazam was arrested after he was stopped for a traffic violation and a police background check found an outstanding warrant for assault against him in Michigan. A search of his car while he was in a holding cell turned up a knife and a hammer, but Abuelazam was eventually released because at the time there had been no known attacks in Virginia, according to ABC News. A tip-off phoned into a crisis center set up in Michigan by law enforcement agents to try to nab the killer led to Abuelazam's arrest late Wednesday at Atlanta's international airport, where he was waiting to board a flight to Tel Aviv. "He was sitting in the gate area and we had him paged by a Delta (airline) rep at the boarding gate, and when he got up to identify himself, then we went over and verified who he was and detained him," Stephen Kremer, the area port director for US Customs and Border Protection in Atlanta, told AFP. Even as police and customs agents led him away, Abuelazam was "very calm," Kremer said. A judge in Michigan on Thursday signed a warrant charging Abuelazam with assault with intent to murder in connection with the July 27 stabbing of a 26-year-old man in Flint. Abuelazam appeared briefly at a hearing in Atlanta on Friday for his extradition to Michigan. Details of the hearing were not immediately available. * Agence France-Presse