Police Suspect Serial Robber Behind Spate of Violent Central Israel Bank Holdups

Same criminal may have robbed ten banks and killed a security guard.

More than 10 bank robberies have apparently been committed by one serial criminal in the Shefelah region, the area south and southeast of Tel Aviv, over the last few months. Among the incidents attributed to the same individual is a bank robbery in August at a Bank Hapoalim branch in Be'er Yaakov in which a security guard was killed. The information was revealed following the partial lifting of a gag order, at the request of Haaretz, by the Ramle Magistrate's Court which permitted disclosure of some of the details of the case.

Since Be'er Yaakov incident, police have seen a substantial increase in the number of violent robberies in the Shefelah and surrounding area. There is evidence that the perpetrator has become increasingly brazen, and that the robberies have all been carried out in a similar way, leading police to suspect that one person is responsible for all of them.

Be’er Yaakov robbery - Ilan Assyag - 09022012
Ilan Assyag

Police are particularly concerned about the violent nature of the crimes. One reason for the partial lifting the gag order is to alert the public that the robber is roaming freely. More recently, in the course of a robbery of a Bank Mizrahi branch in Nes Tziona, the robber fired a number of shots. Police are now attempting to link that incident to the same perpetrator.

In the August incident in Be'er Yaakov, a bank security guard, Yaniv Engler, was standing at the entrance of the branch and attempted to prevent the robber from getting into the bank. The robber shot Engler several times and the guard died later of his injuries. The court has barred disclosure of the methods the robber has employed in his crimes and has also barred publication of most of the locations at which the robberies occurred.

Sources in the banking industry say, however, that the spate of recent robberies are not an indication of an overall rise in the number of bank robberies in Israel. The sources also note that, in addition to guards stationed at branches, banks are equipped with alarm systems, and employees are instructed to cooperate with robbers in an effort to prevent personal injury to innocent victims. Some banks have even acknowledged that they do not give their guards firearms to avoid an exchange of gunfire with a robber.

The police reports do show no increase in bank robberies in recent years. In fact the number has declined, from 62 in 2009 to 55 in 2010 and 53 last year.

However, last week a bystander was killed by a masked gunman in the course of a robbery of a postal bank in Upper Nazareth. David Mashashvili was shot in the head while attempting to prevent the robber from fleeing the scene, and died later of his wounds.

Police say the number of robberies at post offices around the country have nonetheless declined even more substantially in recent years. (Although post offices do offer banking services, they are not formally bank branches as they offer other postal services as well. ) The number of post offices robbed has declined from 85 in 2009 to 75 in 2010 and 40 in 2011.