Four Israelis were arrested for their involvement in an operation in Sinai that
involved abducting African migrants and extorting up to $20,000 in ransom
payments from their families in Israel, police revealed on Sunday.
Jews from Netanya and Kfar Yona, one of whom is a minor, were arrested for
serving as contacts between the Eritrean migrants in Israel and an east
Jerusalem man and suspected Hamas operative named Louai Nasser al-
Din allegedly transferred the money to Hamas in
According to police, the month-long undercover investigation
began as a straightforward investigation into money transferred by Din to Hamas.
Upon further questioning, police discovered the money Din was allegedly
transferring was the ransom money from at least one kidnapping.
are investigating whether the abductions are part of a larger
On August 25 a man in Sinai calling himself Salam made contact
with an Eritrean migrant living in Tel Aviv saying he had kidnapped the man’s
nephew. Salam told the migrant he would have to pay $20,000 within two days or
his relative would be killed.
When the migrant and further family members
arrived at the scene of the exchange they refused to pay the ransom until they
were able to speak to their nephew. They then agreed to hand over the money, but had only been able to come up with
The money was handed over to two of the Jewish suspects, Yaakov
Grad and Eliran Mahfoud Moshe, during a clandestine meeting at the Central Bus
Station in Tel Aviv.
The suspects then took the money to Din – who owns a
cellphone store on Salah a-Din Street – on August 28. Din was supposed to
transfer the money to Hamas in Ramallah.
Police arrested Din just after
his meeting with the two men, with the ransom money still in his store. They
arrested a third man, Victor Savioni, also of Netanya, who police believe was
the main contact point for Salam, whose real name is Amad Abu Arar.
lawyer, Lea Tsemel, denied on Sunday that the money was ransom money and that it
was destined for Ramallah. Police have investigated Din in the past for
involvement in Hamas activities, but according to Tsemel he was released without
Police believe the suspects were involved with six money
transfers to Hamas of between NIS 10,000 and NIS 15,000, although only one of
them appears to be involved in the kidnapping.
Police said Savioni met
Hamas activists while working at a construction site in Netanya and became
involved with money transfers between Israel and Gaza for Hamas.
the investigation the men told police that they did not know the money was
destined for Hamas.
On Sunday, indictments for Grad of Kfar Yonah and
Moshe of Netanya on counts of kidnapping for the purposes of extortion and
murder were filed in the Jerusalem District Court.
An indictment against
Savioni of Netanya was filed in the Jerusalem Magistrates Court on counts of
assisting the commission of a felony and illegal border infiltration Din was
remanded for an additional five days on suspicion of membership in an illegal
organization and kidnapping, at the Jerusalem Magistrates Court. The Jewish
minor was released to house arrest.
Earlier this year, an indictment
charged Yusuf el-Qarinawi – a resident of the Negev Beduin city of Rahat – with
membership in a crime ring that abducted Sudanese and Eritrean refugees in
Sinai. The gang in Sinai allegedly took hostages in order to extort tens of
thousands of dollars in ransom from family members in
Investigators believe Qarinawi was a kingpin, connecting gang
members in Gaza, Hebron, Tel Aviv and Sinai.
He was charged with
concealment of an abducted person; blackmail with use of force; blackmail with
threats; and conspiracy to commit a crime.
Also last year, the Hotline
for Migrant Workers released a report that detailed the horrifying ordeals
reportedly suffered by African migrants to Israel held captive by Beduin
smugglers in Sinai.
The report, entitled “The Dead of the Wilderness,”
depicts incidents of rape, torture, murder, extortion and near starvation that
were described during interviews with 60 African migrants mainly from Eritrea,
24 of them women and 36 men, who reported suffering severe brutality on their
way to Israel.
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Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report