A car bomb shook a Rishon Lezion street early Friday afternoon, killing one and wounding five and sending shock waves throughout the law enforcement community, reminding it that the struggle to control organized crime is far from over.
Yossi Afriat, the car's driver, was killed in the explosion. Five other people, including a 10-year-old boy and an infant, were wounded. Afriat, a Ramle resident, had an extensive police record and served as a mid-level debt collector for the Abergil crime family. Police said that this was not the first attempt on his life, but that previously rivals had attempted to gun him down.
The bombing occurred as the nation's top security officials - Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter and Police Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi - were visiting the Temple Mount to observe the Jerusalem District's preparations for the first Friday prayer service of Ramadan.
Karadi immediately joined other police officials at the scene of the blast, as police attempted to clarify whether the explosion was criminally motivated or an act of terrorism. Meanwhile, Dichter wasted no time in announcing that he did not differentiate in gravity between a terror bombing and a crime-related bombing. He decried "people who are willing to detonate a bomb in a public place," and promised that "police will uproot" the phenomenon of crime-related bombings, instructing Karadi to "act with the highest priority and use all available means" to investigate the incident.
He also ordered police to prepare a report on the use of explosives by criminals, particularly as a means of settling scores and intimidating local politicians. Following the report, Dichter said, there would be a lengthy discussion to discuss police strategies for combating the phenomenon.
An ongoing war between the Abergil-Alperon and Mulner-Abutbul syndicates has caused numerous civilian casualties throughout the years, particularly during and following a power struggle that began in the 1990s, when crime syndicate heads began to invest in personal defense, traveling in bullet-proof cars and motorcades. As a result, handguns became less effective in carrying out assassinations, and criminals have turned to explosives, which put civilians in greater danger.
The most infamous of these attacks was the December 2003 bombing in south Tel Aviv in which three bystanders were killed. After that attack, which targeted crime kingpin Ze'ev Rosenstein, police vowed to crack down on organized crime. In an attempt to break the trend of improved armor and more powerful explosives, certain types of armor plating on civilian vehicles were outlawed.
But despite police efforts, several car bombings have killed gangsters and endangered civilians. Israel even exported the mob wars to Prague when, in 2004, 18 people were wounded by a grenade thrown in an attempted hit on mob boss Assi Abutbul.
In 2005, a Ramle resident and her three-and-a-half-year-old niece were gunned down after leaving a family bar/bat mitzva when their car was mistaken for that of alleged crime boss Itzik Abergil. The other passengers, including the boy and girl celebrants, were all wounded by the spray of automatic fire. Last year witnessed a strong upswing in crime hits and attempts, a trend that quieted again in recent months, interrupted by a May bombing at a car wash owned by mob head Nissim Alperon. Nobody was wounded in that attack.
As a result of the ongoing violence, in February, the US State Department added a paragraph on its Israel travel notice warning would-be tourists that violent confrontations between underworld organizations has led to the death and wounding of innocent bystanders.