The southern district attorney filed an indictment on Friday charging a resident
of the Negev Beduin city of Rahat with membership in a crime ring that abducted
Sudanese and Eritrean refugees in Sinai, allegedly holding them hostage in order
to extort tens of thousands of dollars in ransoms from their family members in
The defendant, Yusuf el-Qarinawi, was allegedly a kingpin in the
gang, connecting gang members in Gaza, Hebron, Tel Aviv and Sinai.
charged with concealment of an abducted person; blackmail with use of force;
blackmail with threats; and conspiracy to commit a crime.
the indictment, the gang assigned each of the abducted refugees a code number,
and then telephoned their relatives in Israel to extort money from them,
threatening that if they did not pay up, they would torture and even execute the
El-Qarinawi’s involvement with the crime ring began last June,
the indictment said, when he met with an Egyptian named Abu Awad and a Gazan
nicknamed Abu Jamil. Allegedly, the men plotted to kidnap Sudanese and Eritrean
refugees in Sinai in order to extort money from their friends and relatives
across the border in Israel.
Allegedly, el-Qarinawi’s role in the gang
included meeting family members of the abducted refugees in Tel Aviv, and
arranging for them to speak on the phone with their kidnapped relatives, the
He also collected ransom money – between $20,000 and
$40,000 – to secure the abductees’ release.
Afterward, el-Qarinawi would
take the ransom money to gang members in Nablus and Hebron, who would transfer
it to Abu Jamil in Gaza and Abu Awad in Sinai.
One of the charges listed
in the indictment alleges that in July Abu Awad and other gang members kidnapped
a refugee, known as M., and held him captive with about 70 others for two
months, handcuffed and blindfolded.
Allegedly, Abu Awad called M.’s
brother Saleh in Israel and told him they were holding M. hostage but would
release him for $40,000.
M. was beaten, starved and threatened by gang
members, the indictment said, who told him that if he did not call his family in
Israel and ask them for $25,000, they would kill him. In a phone call, M.
allegedly begged Saleh to send the kidnappers the ransom, telling his brother
that he feared for his life.
Abu Awad called Saleh every day, the
indictment said, until he had managed to raise a sum of $15,000 toward the
Allegedly, in September 2011, el-Qarinawi sent his brother, Razi,
to meet Saleh in Tel Aviv’s central bus station, and collect the ransom
The next day, however, Abu Awad called Saleh again, demanding an
additional $10,000 for M.’s release, and Saleh managed to raise the cash, the
According to the indictment, this time el-Qarinawi drove
to Tel Aviv to meet Saleh, taking several of his children – all minors – with
However, the additional sum was still not enough, the indictment
said: three days later, Abu Awad called Saleh once more demanding another
$10,000, threatening that if he did not come up with the cash, the kidnappers
would torture and beat M.
Saleh raised the money and el-Qarinawi went to
Tel Aviv again to collect, the indictment said, taking it to gang members in
Nablus and Hebron. Afterwards, Abu Awad released M., who came to
El-Qarinawi was arrested in Hebron at the end of February,
allegedly as he transferred ransom money for another hostage to a gang member in
Alongside the indictment, the district attorney served a
request that el-Qarinawi be remanded in custody for the duration of criminal
proceedings against him.
Shahar Shoham, who runs the migrants and
statusless persons department of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, said that
over the past two years her organization has discovered through interviews with
migrants that large numbers of them undergo very serious torture and abuse in
Sinai, including rape of both women and men, electric shocks, beatings and
sunlight deprivation for months at a time. The ones who arrive in Israel are
jailed and then shortly thereafter released on the street in Israel still
suffering from physical ailments caused by the torture, as well as in many cases
severe emotional and psychological trauma, Shoham added.
organization’s free clinic helps organize abortions from migrants who were raped
in Sinai, called the indictment a positive step forward for police and a
positive recognition of the problem, but added that “the next step is to
recognize them as victims and give them the treatment they need through state
health and welfare services.”
Public policy coordinator for the Hotline
for Migrant Workers Sigal Rozen told The Jerusalem Post
Sunday that she “only
hopes that this will lead to the arrest of many more people who are taking part
in this industry.”
Rozen added that her organization has acquired
numerous witness accounts of people whose families or themselves paid tens of
thousands of dollars in ransom but were nonetheless kept in captivity and died
She also said that over the past year there have been large
numbers of refugees who never intended to come to Israel but were kidnapped from
refugee camps in east Africa and held in Beduin camps in Sinai until they paid
ransom and were released to Israel.
In February 2011, 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.
The report said that 17 of the 24 women interviewed
reported being raped while held captive in Sinai.
The report came a few
months after one compiled by PHR-Israel entitled “Hostages, Torture and Rape in
the Sinai Desert” stated that “out of 165 abortions facilitated by the clinic
between January- November 2010, PHR-Israel suspects that half were requests by
women who were sexually assaulted in the Sinai.”
The PHR-Israel report
stated that the overwhelming majority of Eritreans reported being beaten or
whipped while in Sinai; a quarter were burned, shocked or branded; and 94% were
deprived of food.
In addition, CNN ran a feature last November that
reported that some African migrants are being targeted for organ theft in Sinai,
after they are unable to pay their ransoms.