An attempted underworld hit left one of the most notorious organized crime figures in the Tel Aviv area critically wounded after a bomb exploded inside his SUV mid-day Tuesday.
Reputed crime boss Ben Cohen and a bodyguard were seriously wounded in the attempted hit, which left their white Volvo SUV a crumpled shell and sent a blood-stained body panel flying across the street. A third man in the vehicle was lightly hurt by the shock wave of the explosion and a woman who happened to be driving in a jeep in the next lane on Shefa Tal Street was treated for shock, but was otherwise unharmed.
The blast shook one of the busiest areas of Gush Dan in the middle of the workday. The explosion went off just as the woman’s jeep was nearing the intersection of Shefa Tal and Arvei Nahal at the entrance to Givatayim.
The scene was not far from the Bursa in Ramat Gan, an area where Cohen and his associate Amir Mulner – one of Israel’s top crime figures – are known to operate.
A bystander named Ilya said he was working on the 12th floor of a construction site two blocks away when he heard the blast, and saw a mushroom cloud rise dozens of feet into the area.
He and others described the blast as sounding like a suicide bombing or a missile.
Minutes later, dozens of detectives from across the Tel Aviv area had descended on the area, as did crime scene forensic units, who examined the area in white sterile suits that covered them from neck to toe.
They were joined by ZAKA volunteers who combed the scene picking up body parts, including a soot-covered appendage that had been blown off one of the victims and left lying on the asphalt.
Superintendent Shlomi Saguy, deputy head of the Dan subdistrict, which includes Ramat Gan and Givatayim, said that just before noon police received a call about the explosion, and after officers arrived at the scene they found the three wounded people inside the car, as well as the woman in the vehicle next to it suffering from shock.
They were quickly able to determine that the blast was not terrorism-related, Saguy said.
Magen David Adom paramedics who arrived at the scene said they found two men with serious injuries to their extremities lying on the pavement outside of the car, and a third suffering from injuries caused by the impact of the explosion. MDA said the three men were evacuated from the scene to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, with two listed in serious condition and one suffering from light injuries.
Cohen has been a heavyweight in the Israeli underworld for well over a decade. He grew up in the Ramat Amidar neighborhood of Ramat Gan, along with childhood friend Amir Mulner.
Both later joined the Ramat Amidar gang led by the Harari brothers, which waged a deadly war with the rival Pardes Katz gang, one of the bigger organized crime feuds of the 80s and 90s in Israel.
Cohen later served seven years in prison in the United States for the murder of Israeli Alon Giladi in 1999, who was beaten and strangled to death in his home in Los Angeles. Cohen was convicted of manslaughter in the case, which helped his reputation soar in the Israeli underworld. He was later arrested in March 2009 for throwing a grenade at a Subaru dealership in Tel Aviv as part of a campaign of extortion and in December 2013 was arrested and later released in connection to a money laundering case that police said involved hundreds of millions of shekels.
Last April, Ben Cohen’s uncle Itzik Cohen was badly wounded in a blast in his car on HaPalmach Street in Givatayim, just a few blocks away from the site of Tuesday’s blast. Like Tuesday’s blast, the bomb went off in a busy area next to residential buildings and day care centers.
The bombing on Tuesday follows one late last month that seriously wounded three men – including well-known Netanya underworld figure Baruch Bokal – as they were driving through Rishon Lezion on December 28th.