Police: Sela may be hiding with haredim
Minister Eli Yishai received letter from serial rapist, sent before escape.
By REBECCA ANNA STOIL, JPOST.COM STAFF
November 27, 2006 00:13
moshe karadi 88.298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Police on Monday said that they fear escaped serial rapist Benny Sela may be hiding in the Haredi sector.
According to police, a Haredi disguise would ease Sela's escape as it would allow him to travel among the population unnoticed. In addition, the Haredi media has focused very little attention on the Sela story, and therefore those in the Haredi sector are less likely to recognize him.
Also on Monday, police expanded the search for Sela to Gush Tel Monde following a call from a local resident who claimed he knew Sela and had seen him in the area.
The resident said that he recognized the serial rapist because he had rented an apartment to him before being arrested.
Police were searching the surrounding orchards and settlements.
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Also Monday, it was reported that Sela sent a letter to Labor, Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) several days before his escape.
Writing as a "citizen" regarding a "consumer issue," Sela requested that Yishai allow the Barak telecommunications company to enter a legal tender against Bezeq for phone service to the Prisons Service, so that prisoners could use Barak as well as Bezeq.
The letter, which was sent to Yishai by Prisons Service registered mail, was given over to the police.
Meanwhile, Israel Police Chief Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi told Army Radio on Monday morning that despite the failures that led to Sela's escape, he had no intention of resigning.
One of those failures, Karadi added, was the inadequacy of the police escort.
"The prisoner was supposed to be handcuffed on his feet, as well, and was supposed to be escorted by a larger number of police. But since the policemen who went didn't know that they were going to escort Benny Sela, they went with a smaller number of police than what was needed," Karadi said.
On Sunday, an independent commission began its own investigation, trying to uncover how a chain of critical errors enabled the 34-year-old to flee police custody.
Independent commission established to investigate Sela escape
The commission was established hours after Sela's escape Friday morning, when Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter pulled rank on Karadi and announced the creation of the panel to look into how Sela managed to escape police guards after receiving a summons to a nonexistent court hearing in Tel Aviv.
At least 10 prisoners have escaped custody in 2006, and Tel Aviv has already had at least two recent cases in which suspects have fled police detention, although in both earlier cases, the suspects were apprehended a short time later.
Meanwhile, in the second false alarm in 24 hours, a Tel Aviv resident's Sunday evening sighting of escaped serial rapist Benny Sela in the city's Hadar Yosef neighborhood later turned out to be mistaken.
The false lead came as police said that while they believed that he was still in the Tel Aviv area, they were at a loss as to Sela's whereabouts.
In the early afternoon, Karadi held yet another situation assessment with police officers in the Tel Aviv District on Sunday afternoon as almost 2,000 police and Border Police officers from around the country continued their searches for the 34-year-old convict.
Following that meeting, Karadi said that police believed that Sela acted alone, and was not aided by anyone in his spectacular Friday morning escape. The top cop added that while reports of Sela have come in to police hotlines from all corner of the country, police believed that he was still in the vicinity of Tel Aviv, which was his hunting grounds during his rape spree throughout the nineties.
Sela, who was, until his Friday morning escape, serving a 35-year and nine-month sentence in Eshel Prison, was convicted in 2000 of sexually assaulting 14 women in the Tel Aviv area.
Police suspect that Sela was actually involved in almost 40 sexual assaults. While police detectives continued to reiterate their belief that Sela remained in the Tel Aviv area, police were led on two chases Sunday - and while one of them was proven to be a wild goose hunt, police have yet to confirm that a sighting of a suspicious man near Ashkelon was not in fact the first sighting of Sela since Friday morning.
Police revealed early Sunday afternoon that at around 9:30 in the morning they had received report from a resident of Ashkelon who claimed to have picked up a hitchhiker matching Sela's description.
The man said that he picked up the hitchhiker at around 2 a.m. near the Nitzan Junctiton, but only when watching the morning news noticed the likeness between his passenger and the serial rapist.
Police said that they were checking the citizen's story "with the greatest possible seriousness" and dispatched forces to comb Ashkelon for clues. Large numbers of police reinforced by municipal inspectors flocked to the Ashkelon area and spent the afternoon searching for additional clues.
Police also instructed taxi cab drivers and private security companies to tell their employees to exercise extra alertness, distributing Sela's picture.
The Lachish Subdistrict also told citizens to report any suspicious movement by people similar to Sela. "But we also emphasize that this is a complaint that is still being checked, and that we must prevent panic in the public."
While police were still trying to confirm the veracity of the Ashkelon sighting, they managed to establish that a second reported sighting was a false call, after locating a man who a cab driver had believed was Sela.
On Sunday morning, police were contacted by a taxi driver who said that he had driven a man similar to Sela in the area of the Beit Lid Junction, located on the old coastal road near Netanya. The cab driver said that a tired, hungry-looking man wearing blue sweatpants with white stripes on the side, a white T-shirt and was holding sandals, took a ride in his taxi.
The cab driver told police that when he became suspicious that the passenger was the escaped rapist, Sela exited the vehicle and fled. Police ordered residents in the Netanya area to be on alert for Sela, but later located the man and confirmed that he was not the feared convict.