18 hit men nabbed for gangland murder attempts

Police arrested 18 people suspected of involvement in a number of attempted underworld murders, including four from Belarus who police believe were brought to the country as paid assassins, police announced on March 9. Police believe the four tried to kill the father of Likud MK Inbal Gavrieli, Shoni Gavrieli, by placing an incendiary device on his car while it was parked at Tel Aviv's Azrieli shopping mall in January. The bomb, however, fell off the vehicle and was safely defused by police sappers, who at first were concerned that it was placed in the underground parking lot by Palestinian terrorists. Police believe the attempt was part of an underworld power struggle, and say Gavrieli may have been a target because of his alleged business contacts with underworld figures. Gavrieli has denied any involvement in underworld dealings. Underworld crime was catapulted to Israeli headlines in December following a failed hit on crime kingpin Ze'ev Rosenstein in Tel Aviv, in a bombing that claimed the lives of three bystanders. In the past two years, at least nine passersby have been killed in gangland attacks. The four suspected hit men, who entered Israel from Egypt in November 2003, were arrested in February 2004. After their arrest, the men led police to a Kfar Saba apartment where a large cache of arms was uncovered, including two LAW anti-tank rockets, dozens of hand grenades, various firearms, pistol silencers, and bomb- making materials. A court gag order that was imposed on the case - code- named "Liquidation Sale" by police - was lifted March 9, after which details of the arrests were released at a Tel Aviv police press conference. Tel Aviv police chief Cmdr. Yossi Sedbon called the case 'one of the most grave and troubling' affairs ever uncovered in Israel. During their investigation of the attempt on Gavrieli's life, police found a videotape that showed the device falling off his car and called him in for questioning. Although Gavrieli denied that he had any enemies who wanted to kill him, police recommended that he start employing bodyguards. Inbal Gavrieli said that she was certain her father was not the intended target of the hit, and is not concerned for his safety. Police have identified six major local crime families, which are fighting for control in gambling, prostitution, and drug operations estimated to be worth about NIS 14 billion a year. Of these, the police have identified two main camps - the Ze'ev Rosenstein crime family, backed by the Abutbul family, on one side, and the Abergil family and their allied Alperon family on the other. The cash-strapped government recently rejected a police request for a special NIS 1.3 billion funding increase over the next three years to fight organized crime.