Police bemoan bomb use in underworld

As police sifted through the rubble outside the southern Tel Aviv apartment where three known criminals were killed about a month ago in a powerful blast, senior officers warned that the use of explosives was no longer exceptional in underworld crime.

On Wednesday, three people were killed when a bomb they were assembling exploded prematurely in an apartment on Rehov Ben-Zvi in Tel Aviv. Several months ago, another known criminal was killed under similar circumstances in a warehouse in Jaffa. In the earlier incident also police concluded that the explosion was the result of a "work accident" that befell criminals assembling a bomb to be used in underworld hits.

Bombs, police said, have taken the place of guns in the war between underworld criminal organizations. In 2003, a bomb planted on the roof of a currency exchange shop in Tel Aviv and intended for underworld crime boss Ze'ev Rosenstein killed three innocent bystanders.

Just two months ago, police cracked a Tel Aviv crime ring that planted a number of small bombs, similar in size to the one being assembled on Wednesday, outside the homes of its adversaries.

But even with their successes, police admitted they have difficulty in completely preventing such attacks. Following the explosion, Tel Aviv police chief Cmdr. David Tzur told reporters: "I can't promise 100 percent success in preventing crime but I can promise 100 percent effort."

The criminals, police said, have become more audacious in their operations, and whether their stratagem is the firing of a LAW missile at a wedding hall - as criminals planned last year - or the bombing of a store surrounded by innocent bystanders, they are rarely deterred from their target whatever the cost.

"The use of explosives is not new and it will continue," said former Tel Aviv police chief Yossi Sedbon. "For the past few years criminals have tried numerous times to knock off their rivals by using either missiles or bombs."

Sedbon, who was police chief during the 2003 assassination attempt on Rosenstein's life, said criminals have resorted to using explosives since it was too difficult to assassinate a rival with a gun. "Underworld figures move under tight security and in bulletproof cars," he said. "The only way to get to them is to use a long-range rifle, a missile or a bomb."

The solution, Sedbon said, was to increase the police force's budget. "The public cannot expect the police to completely stop crime when the police do not get all the resources they need," he said.