Elias Abuelazam arrived back in Michigan on Thursday shackled, surrounded by a more than a dozen police and wrapped -- for his own safety -- in a bulletproof vest to face the first of what likely will be numerous charges related to more than a dozen stabbing attacks.
So far, Abuelazam, an Israeli citizen who was living in the U.S. at the time of the attacks, is charged only with assault with intent to murder in connection to a July 27 stabbing of a 26-year-old Flint man. But prosecutors say they plan to bring more charges.
The 33-year-old, who was arrested Aug. 11 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as he was about to board a plane for Tel Aviv, is suspected in a string of attacks including five fatal and eight other stabbings in the Flint area, three attacks in Virginia and one in Ohio.
"The charges will be coming in the homicide cases and attempted homicide cases," Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton told reporters following Abuelazam's arraignment via video monitor at a Flint courthouse. "I'll seek life in prison without the possibility of parole."
Leyton said his office and members of a task force investigating the Flint area attacks are working closely with authorities in the other states.
Earlier Thursday, Abuelazam was extradited back to Michigan from Atlanta, arriving on a small plane under tight security at a secluded runway far from the main terminal at Bishop International Airport in Flint. Wearing a bulletproof vest, leg irons and handcuffs, he walked about 30 yards across the tarmac and was whisked away in a police van to the Genesee County jail, where authorities said he will be held in solitary confinement.
Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell described Abuelazam as a very big man, about 6-feet-5 inches tall and weighing 280 pounds. He said the suspect's large size was part of the reason security was so tight.
Pickell said Abuelazam told him he was concerned about the presence of so many TV cameras.
"I told him he'd have to get used to it," Pickell said. "That's how it's going to be for a while."
During the arraignment, Leyton, citing the severity of the attacks and concern that Abuelazam is a flight risk, asked a judge for a $10 million bond.
"He is not a citizen of the United States. The court should do all it can to make sure he stands trial in Genesee County where he ran rampant, created havoc and attacked innocent citizens," Leyton said.
The judge then ordered Abuelazam held without bond.
Defense attorney Brian Morley said he didn't contest the decision because it's a discretionary decision by the court.
"My understanding is he was not fleeing the country, he was heading home," Morley said. "I could see where it suggests flight. At this point, with the town nervous and inferences of flight I can see where the judge is coming from."
The attacks started in late spring, and a pattern emerged after a dozen more men were stabbed between late June and early August. Survivors described the attacker as a big man wearing a baseball-style cap and feigning the need for car help or directions.
The description matched Abuelazam, who grew up in Israel in a small Arab Christian community in Ramle, where he had been a suspect in a screwdriver stabbing earlier this year.
The victims in Michigan, Ohio and Virginia were men aged 15 to 67. Most were black, but investigators don't know whether race was a motive.
One of the victims, 17-year-old Etwan Wilson, arrived at the courthouse too late Thursday for the arraignment but said he'll attend the trial. He showed reporters a vertical scar up his abdomen, and described how he was attacked in early August while returning home from a party, when he stopped to help a man with directions.
"As I turned away, I saw him running toward me," said Wilson. "He stabbed me one time and he was trying to pick me up. Every night it replays in my head."
On Aug. 11, investigators went to a market outside Flint where Abuelazam had worked for a month. A store video showed Abuelazam matched the description of the suspect. He had not been seen at work since Aug. 1, when he told people he was off to Virginia. Using electronic records, investigators tracked Abuelazam to Atlanta's airport and arrested him at the boarding gate.
Bringing murder charges in the case may be a challenge for prosecutors. Though they have not detailed what evidence they have against him, there are no known witnesses in the five fatal attacks other than the stabber.
"Sometimes there's a level of discontent from the public that you're not always able to charge every particular count," said Jim Kanatzar, the prosecutor for Jackson County, Mo., who has tried and won convictions in a serial killer case. "At the end of the day, if the prosecutor is successful and gets a life sentence or better, the public is satisfied."