A police van was set on fire on Wednesday in the nothern city of Kiryat Shmona and a grenade thrown at a vehicle parked next to it, causing damage. This is the fourth time in one week that a police vehicle has been torched in Galilee, and police believe it is connected to an investigation they are conducting against people suspected of extorting protection money in the north.
As part of the investigation, a large-scale raid was conducted last week on the homes of 23 people in the town of Arabeh and in the Zarzir regional council in Lower Galilee, as well as in Tuba-Zangariyye in Upper Galilee. The raid came after months of investigation against the suspects, who are thought to have coerced money out of people in return for providing “protection.”
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Fourteen suspects were brought to court for an extension of their custody. In the course of the arrests, documents were seized as well as vehicles, weapons, drugs, computers and technological devices, which police say connect the suspects to money laundering, extortion and fraudulent receipt of goods.
After the arrests, a series of police cars were set on fire. Two days after the raid, two vehicles were torched, in Hatzor Haglilit and Safed. Two days later, another police van was torched in Yesud Ha’ma’ala. No suspects have been arrested in these incidents.
Police believe that two break-ins at police stations last month are also connected to the investigation. The break-ins occurred at the offices of investigators in Tiberias and Safed, and involved the theft of a revolver and computers.
The commander of the police’s Northern district, Maj. Gen. Shimon Lavi, said police intend to wage a persistent campaign against crime organizations in the north that are striking fear into area residents.
“We will make no concessions or compromises until we eliminate these crime organizations and put their members behind bars,” he said. In light of the situation, Lavi moved his office to a police station near Tuba-Zangariyye.
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Four years ago, police waged a similar operation against gangs from Tuba-Zangariyye that were extorting protection money, with hundreds of policemen swooping down on the houses of 27 suspects. The state made plea bargains with the people indicted, and they light sentences, partly because witnesses were afraid to testify against them. One suspect arrested last week, who is still under detention, was one of the main culprits in the previous raid. He served time in prison and was released last year.