Police tie 2003 Tel Aviv attack to massive crackdown on Israeli underworld
Three people were killed in blast at bureau de change believed to have targeted alleged mob rival; heavy police presence at Rishon Lezion courthouse for remand hearings of 44 people arrested as part of years-long operation against organized crime.
On December 11, 2003, three people were killed and another 19 were wounded in an explosion in the heart of Tel Aviv. All were innocent passers-by caught up in a abortive hit on well-known mobster Zeev Rosenstein. Only now, 12 years on, do police believe that they have cracked the case, which crossed all red lines by Israeli organized crime.
On Tuesday morning, when 44 suspected mobsters appeared at Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court, 19 of them, including kingpin Yitzhak Abergil, faced charges over the bombing.
The court had looked set to become a massive police fortress on Tuesday morning, with the remand hearings for the 44 arrested Monday in a far-reaching operation against organized crime in Israel.
Abergil is in an Israeli jail, serving out a 10-year sentence for murder, money-laundering and drug offenses handed down to him in the US. Police investigator Oren Sasson told the court on Tuesday that Abergil is suspected of leading a crime organization, and his remand was extended by 15 days.
Abergil's attorney Sharon Nahari, said: "(Abergil) denies the allegations and maintains his right to remain silent. He has already been tried for some of the offenses in Belgium - there was no reason to arrest him again. "
The detainees also include Avi Ruhan, also believed to head a major crime organization in the Sharon region, who is suspected of murder. After the hearing, in which he too had his remand extended by 15 days, Ruhan told reporters: "I will walk from this case too."
Meir Abergil, another alleged senior mobster, is suspected of murder in the 2003 Tel Aviv bombing and of the attempted murder of Zeev Rosenstein.
The police operation, known as Case 512, targeted members of Israel's biggest criminal organization and its affiliate organizations. The investigation itself had an international focus, involving a number of countries, and resulted in evidence for crimes involving weapons and drug trafficking, as well as various offenses typical of criminal organizations.
Given the severity of the charges - at least seven murders and eight assassination attempts as well as the weapons and drugs offenses – the court had been likely to extend the suspects' remands, thereby giving the police a chance to move ahead with the investigation. This is also common in high profile cases.
This case is being handled by the National Unit for International Investigations and the Tel Aviv central investigative unit, and is the most extensive probe into criminal activity in the last decade.
Remand hearings for such a large number of suspects will be a complex logistical operation. More than 100 detectives, riot police and undercover officers were to be deployed around the courthouse from the morning hours.
A special operational plan was implemented to cater for the mass disarray among the criminal organizations whose leaders have been arrested, and out of concern that there would be an attack on a suspect who could potentially cause "damage" to senior members of the criminal world.
Among those who were set to appear in court were the suspected head of a criminal organization and five suspected senior members of organizations that emanated from it. Due to the unprecedented number of detainees, the police have reserved two halls in the court.
Police were also bracing for the arrival of relatives, friends and "soldiers" from criminal organizations who are still free, and who want to support the detainees. The police also took into account that the shock over the arrests will very quickly switch to anger in light of rumors about the conduct of certain suspected criminals in the case.
"Years of patience have paid off for us and now the criminals realize that," said a senior officer involved in the investigation.
At this stage there is still ambiguity about most of the details of the investigation, in order to keep key areas of it from the suspects, but underworld is already beginning to understand that this affair is not like previous waves of arrests among the criminal organizations.