Mafia Enforcer Turned State Witness Gunned Down in Central Israel

Mustafa Basel Assi, 46, had recently returned from 15 years in hiding abroad after his testimony brought down a powerful crime syndicate

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FILE PHOTO: An Israel Police car
FILE PHOTO: An Israel Police carCredit: Ilan Assayag

A former mobster turned state witness against one of Israel's largest crime syndicates was shot dead on Friday in Kafr Bara in central Israel.

According to a preliminary police investigation, 46-year-old Basel Mustafa Assi's car came under fire around 8:30 pm. He received serious injuries to his upper body, and was declared dead on arrival at the hospital. 

A large police response is under way. No motives have as yet been determined, and any information about the suspects is currently embargoed for publication.

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An enforcer for the Ayat-Hariri family, Assi was arrested in March 2005 on suspicion of extortion. While in prison, he brokered a deal with the state, under which he would agree to work for the police undercover and act as state witness, in exchange for a lump sum of NIS 150,000 (around $32,000), a salary during his undercover work, and the end of several criminal investigations.

In September 2005, indictments were filed against 15 members of the Ayat-Hariri gang. Assi testified for four consecutive months on events that took place during the period before he was incarcerated, as well as during his undercover work. 

According to the charges, the defendants ran a successful racketeering and drug-dealing business spread throughout central Israel. Assi gave detailed testimony, which allowed a glimpse into the internal conduct of an Israeli criminal organization. 

Basel Mustafa Assi, mafia enforcer turned state witness, killed September 13, 2019

The defendants were convicted in 2007, leading to the police declaring the gang had been "wiped out," according to financial paper Globes. Assi went into hiding in a foreign country, where he lived for about a decade.

Court documents mentioned the multiple reasons for Assi's decision to work for the authorities, chief among which was a feeling of personal betrayal from the leadership in the organization. But in 2011, Assi, with the help of his brother, sent two videos to the lawyer of one of the convicts his testimony had put behind bars to "clear [his] conscience." 

In both videos, about 30 minutes each, Assi described how the police had allegedly manipulated him to convict his former employers, including by getting him to perjure himself - in one case, he had apparently only "guessed" one of the defendants was responsible.

He also said the police had allowed him to commit offenses while working undercover, as long as he did it away from the cameras set up in his home for evidence. "This whole thing was revenge," Assi said in the video, " and you have turned my vengeance against me."

Following the testimony, the defendants filed for a retrial, which was rejected by the Supreme Court.