An American teenager wanted in a gruesome murder in the United States can be extradited despite his claim of Israeli citizenship, an Israeli judge ruled Sunday.

The decision was the latest step in a case that has strained U.S.-Israeli relations as Samuel Shein-bein, 18, has fought to remain in Israel and evade prosecution in an American courtroom.Legal experts said the ruling could go far beyond this case by redefining the nature of Israeli citizenship, one of the pillars of the Jewish state.

Sheinbein's defense attorney said he will appeal Sunday's decision, and U.S. officials predicted that it could be months before the case is resolved.

Sheinbein is accused of the 1997 murder of 19-year-old Alfredo Enrique Tello, whose charred and dismembered body was found in a garage in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. A teenage co-defendant committed suicide in Maryland shortly before his trial was to start.

Sheinbein fled to Israel and, despite having never lived in this country, claimed protection under his father's Israeli citizenship.

Israeli District Court Judge Moshe Ravid said that while he accepted Sheinbein's citizenship claim, the youth cannot use it to avoid extradition because he has not maintained "an attachment" to Israel.

"The defendant is extraditable because a citizen according to the law of extradition is a person who acquired the status of a citizen of Israel and who professes an attachment to the country," the judge wrote.

In so ruling, Ravid appears to have established a new criterion for citizenship and the protections afforded citizens, Israeli legal experts said.

Many Israelis have criticized Sheinbein's efforts to use citizenship laws to evade justice, saying that Israel should not serve as a haven for Jewish criminals.

Israel has been built in part on its "Law of Return," which grants automatic citizenship to Jews or the children of a Jewish parent who arrive from anywhere in the world.

The Sheinbein case, however, highlighted the potential abuse of the law, lawyers said.