Beduin charged with refugee abduction in Sinai

Defendant allegedly at center of gang that held Africans hostage in Egypt, blackmailed family members in Israel for ransoms.

Sinai border fence 370 (photo credit: Reuters/ BAZ RATNER)
Sinai border fence 370
(photo credit: Reuters/ BAZ RATNER)
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 Israel.
The defendant, Yusuf el-Qarinawi, was allegedly a kingpin in the gang, connecting gang members in Gaza, Hebron, Tel Aviv and Sinai.
He is charged with concealment of an abducted person; blackmail with use of force; blackmail with threats; and conspiracy to commit a crime.
According to 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 hostages.
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 indictment said.
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 ransom.
Allegedly, in September 2011, el-Qarinawi sent his brother, Razi, to meet Saleh in Tel Aviv’s central bus station, and collect the ransom money.
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 indictment said.
According to the indictment, this time el-Qarinawi drove to Tel Aviv to meet Saleh, taking several of his children – all minors – with him.
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 Israel.
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 the city.
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.
Shoham, whose 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 in Sinai.
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.