Task force tackles Tiberias crime lords

An anti-organized crime task force swept through Tiberias early Sunday morning. The task force, comprising Amakim District police officers, together with Border Police and Tax Authority units, stormed houses and banks in and around the holiday resort on the shores of Lake Kinneret, nabbing 24 suspects who were arrested on charges of extortion, money laundering and attempted murder. The crackdown on organized crime in the city, which Ch.-Supt. Ami Mualem, head of the Central Investigations Unit of the Amakim District, said was controlled by the Ohayon family, followed a series of violent incidents in Tiberias, in which innocent civilians were injured. Four months ago, Ran Baranes, a market vendor, was shot by two suspects during what police said was an attempt by the Ohayon family to take control of the municipal market. According to Mualem, the crime syndicate had attempted to take over stalls in the market, set up illegal ones and extort protection money from the legitimate vendors. Following that incident, Amakim District police chief, Asst.-Cmdr. Ya'akov Zigdon put together a special investigative team headed by the district's Central Investigations Unit, which painstakingly gathered intelligence information and evidence over the past four months in close cooperation with the Tax Authority. Mualem said that he hoped that the most recent arrests would help curb the rise of organized crime in Tiberias, and that he believed that similar joint operations would help combat organized crime throughout the country. "This is the solution," Mualem said, "to use all of our tools, all of our resources, and combine forces to arrest the criminals." Sunday's operation involved over 200 police officers as well as other members of the joint task force. As well as arresting the suspects, police also searched two banks, one in Tiberias and a second in the Upper Galilee town of Hatzor, for evidence of money laundering and organized crime activities. All of the suspects were taken to a Nazareth Magistrate's Court for remand. Shlomi Ohayon and another eight suspects were remanded until May 2, others, including a bank manager, for lesser periods. Three of the detainees were released. Mualem said that the Ohayon family is connected to the organization run by suspected crime boss Amir Mulner, and that they share information. It has not been the easiest few months for Mulner. In January, he was stabbed in the Daniel Hotel in Herzliya during an "underworld summit" and a month later he was arrested after Border Police volunteers stopped the vehicle in which he was traveling and discovered parts of an explosive device. Mulner was "elevated" by police to Public Enemy No. 1 after kingpin Ze'ev Rosenstein's arrest and subsequent extradition to the United States . The US has added a paragraph about organized crime in its Israel travel warning, saying that "violent confrontation between organized criminal elements has led to the death and injury of innocent bystanders." While the warning, issued in February, does not specify Tiberias as a scene of previous attacks, it does warn against criminal activity in the Galilee. Hours before the early morning raids, criminal activity in Tiberias continued unabated. Around midnight, a father and son were stabbed near the Club Hotel. The two, residents of the city, were already known to the police for suspected criminal connections. According to the police, the stabbings were the result of a falling out among criminals. A suspect was arrested, and was brought Sunday to the Tiberias Magistrate's Court for remand.