Peruvian man arrested for slew of hoax bomb threats against US Jewish targets

Nunez Santos is charged with beginning his bomb threat campaign in retaliation for teenage girls’ refusal to provide sexually explicit photographs he demanded from them.

By Dion J. Pierre, Algemeiner

A Peruvian national has been arrested for sending over 150 hoax bomb threats earlier this month to synagogues, Jewish Community Centers, and other institutions across the United States, the US Justice Department announced on Thursday.

The suspect, Eddie Manuel Nunez Santos, terrorized thousands of people across five states — New York, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania — with his bomb threats from Sept. 15-21, according to federal prosecutors.

The hoaxes — which also targeted airports, hospitals, and a shopping mall — resulted in massive disruptions from shutting down religious services to having to evacuate thousands of schoolchildren. Flights were also delayed, and a hospital was even forced to go on lockdown.

Prosecutors, who on Thursday unsealed their complaint charging Nunez Santos, allege that he also solicited sexually explicit photographs from a teenage girl and other children and began his bomb threat campaign “in retaliation against her and other minors” who rejected him.

“As alleged, the defendant’s relentless campaign of false bomb threats caused an immediate mobilization by federal and state authorities, diverting critical law enforcement and public safety resources, and caused fear in hundreds of communities across this country,” US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams said in a statement. “The charges unsealed today show that those who engage in such conduct, wreaking havoc on our communities, will not find safe haven merely because they do it from outside our borders. Working together with our law enforcement partners, we will find you, and we will prosecute you.”

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The Justice Department said it tracked Nunez Santos — who was arrested by Peruvian authorities in Lima, Peru, earlier this week — by tracing his digital signatures, including his email and IP address. He faces multiple charges of transmitting threatening interstate communications, conveying false information and hoaxes, attempted sexual exploitation of a child, and attempting to procure child pornography. If convicted on all charges, he could spend several decades in prison if not receive a life sentence.

His arrest was cheered by US Jewish groups.

“Thanks to the diligence, professionalism, and coordination of law enforcement and intelligence across the country and the world, the perpetrator responsible for terrorizing multiple institutions across various states — to include the Jewish community over the High Holidays — with dozens of hoax bomb threats is now in custody,” Michael Masters — national director and CEO of the Secure Community Network, a Jewish security nonprofit — said in response to Nunez Santos’ arrest.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) added: “Grateful for the efforts of US Attorney Williams … and other local and state law enforcement that led to this individual’s charges in connection with over 150 hoax bomb threats — some of which targeted Jewish institutions over Rosh Hashanah.”

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The Algemeiner has previously reported on a series of swatting incidents, for which Nunez Santos is not being charged, that have targeted synagogues and other Jewish institutions across the US since the summer. They mostly struck synagogues that livestream their services and, in some cases, caused interruptions of prayer.

Swatting is a form of criminal harassment that involves falsely reporting a crime or emergency with the intention of triggering an aggressive response — often involving a SWAT team — from law enforcement. The idea is to use the hoax emergency calls to harass and intimidate a target. In some cases, swatting has even caused fatalities.

The prosecution of Nunez Santos comes amid a historic spike in antisemitic incidents across the US, which increased 36 percent in 2022 and have showed few signs of slowing down this year.

Last year, the ADL recorded 3,697 such incidents — 10 per day — in the US, the highest ever since the Jewish civil rights group began tracking them in 1979. Incidents of harassment, vandalism, and assault all spiked by double digits and occurred most frequently in New York, California, New Jersey, Florida, and Texas, accounting for 54 percent of the ADL’s data. New York had the most, with 580 incidents. One incident resulted in a fatality.

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Acts of hate targeting Jewish institutions and synagogue also occurred at high rates, with 589 incidents, including a hostage situation at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, and 91 bomb threats — the most recorded since 2017.