Used by Israel's Underworld, One Ethiopian Immigrant Becomes Crime Boss

Israeli crime bosses have found a new source of cheap labor: desperate Ethiopian immigrants. One of them decided to aim higher - and be a boss himself, according to testimony gathered by Rehovot police.

On August 15, residents of Yavneh were shocked by a massive explosion that shook Haarava Street at three in the morning. Two men staggered out of a burning car. One was Ilan Amar, a high-ranking criminal in the Rehovot and Yavneh area, who suffered moderate injuries. The other seriously-injured man was Amar's brother-in-law.

At first police believed the explosion was part of a war between Amar and another criminal, Kobi Yossov. But a string of other assassination attempts eventually led police to a different and surprising conclusion: That the suspect allegedly behind the explosion in Yavneh, as well as other attempted hits, was a 28-year-old Ethiopian immigrant who had decided to wage war on the more established crime kingpins.

In August, a bomb went off under Ilan Amar’s car in Yavneh.

Ziv Dagu immigrated to Israel at the age of six. His father, who was a wheat farmer in Ethiopia, settled in Rehovot with his family. Their integration was rough and Dagu found himself hooking up with the wrong people. Four months ago, he was arrested by Rehovot police for drug-related crimes. "I grew up with beatings; I was hit. I lived with the beatings," Dagu told an informant who was planted in his cell.

The taped conversations with the informant, who posed as a senior crime organization figure from the Ramle area, provided testimony not only concerning Dagu's alleged involvement in drugs and attempted assassinations, but also a glimpse of a new phenomenon in the Israeli underworld: Young Ethiopian immigrants, faced with a difficult absorption process and a lack of job prospects, are being snatched up by crime kingpins to work in drug dealing, tossing grenades and even murder.

Dagu and his friends were young kids when they arrived in Rehovot's Kiryat Moshe, a neighborhood made up predominantly of Ethiopian immigrants of a low socioeconomic level. As teens they were already known to the local police.

"My entire life, from a young age, I was with bad people. I learned about life from these people - who to embrace and who not to embrace," Dagu told the informer.

Over the years, Dagu started operating in Yavneh too, where he connected with local criminals. He built his power with David Alfasi, partner of crime chief Yossov, and with Yossov himself.

Dagu aspired to be, in his own way, a self-made man. Not one of the neighborhood kids doing errands for the bigwigs, but one of the bigwigs. "I built myself up. Listen, I was a kid; I worked in drugs, like every kid in the neighborhoods. After that, I worked, opened a club and then opened another club," he recounted.

An event in 2009 crystalized his decision to make it on his own. One night, while Dagu was hanging out with another criminal, Zvika Shasha, who was connected to Yossov, a police central unit detective car stopped beside them. The detectives asked Shasha to open his bag, which contained a loaded pistol. Shasha quickly threw the bag on Dagu and accused Dagu of having given him the bag to watch. Dagu felt humiliated. In a single moment, he relived the discrimination he had been suffering his entire life. He realized that if he did not start working alone, he would never get ahead.

Dagu began attracting a following of aimless Ethiopian youth from Kiryat Moshe with small sums of money. The youth were often exploited by the kingpins, who would pay them 400 or 500 shekels to throw a grenade when the going rate was several thousand shekels. Dagu presented himself as someone who would take care of his guys. "Everything I have, I give to them," he said. "You see me sometimes coming back with 1,000 shekels [from an assignment]; I swear on my mother, I would give everyone 200 shekels. [All I asked of them was that] they just need to remember me when I need them."

"Over time, I grew," continued Dagu, who opened several nightclubs and a casino in Rehovot and Yavneh. "Money would come in - 30,000 or 40,000 shekels." Once the police closed the casino in Rehovot, "we started working in the drug trade - hashish, grass." Dagu said that once he started threatening the income of other criminals in the area, he was taken to an orchard near Rehovot and beaten. Then, one evening a relative of Amar showed up at one of Dagu's clubs and asked for free drinks. Dagu realized he was being tested. "I told him 'you know what? Blow off; you're not coming in here.'" According to Dagu, the next day, the relative came to a restaurant where he was with the goal of knocking him off. Suddenly Dagu saw Amar with a weapon. "I told him, 'not this way' and he told me 'I'll screw you';" Then Amar shot at him from a distance of six meters, and Dagu ran out "hearing the shooting." It was then that Dagu told the informant he decided to get rid of Amar.

A week later he had already acquired a remote-controlled bomb and arranged to meet one of his associates at a restaurant managed by Moshe Tchana, another associate. The two headed for Yavneh's Haarava Street. Dagu's partner attached the large bomb to Amar's car and the two waited nearby. When Amar got into the car, Dagu detonated the bomb. "I sped away from there; why would I stick around?" he said. "If I had known that nothing happened, if I had seen the situation, I would have verified the kill."

About two months ago, the commander of the Central District's central unit, Major General Yigal Ben Shalom, summoned several dozen youths from the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood to the unit's offices in Ramle for a sports day with investigators and detectives from the unit. The youngsters had no idea that in the adjacent rooms a clandestine investigation was underway into the involvement of other boys from the neighborhood in several attempted hits, shooting incidents and planting bombs.

The investigation headed by Central District commander Bentzi Sau uncovered a conspiracy to commit other murders and an indirect link to the murder of Yehuda Buzaglo, a merchant in the Rehovot wholesale market. Indictments were issued against Dagu and four of his men for attempted murder and the use of firearms and their detention was extended until the end of the proceedings.

Dagu's attorney, Ness Ben-Nathan said that Dagu "clarified during his questioning that he was bragging to the informant for assorted reasons and that all the information he provided about the events had already been publicized in the past in the media, and that additional details were known to him because of his closeness to those behind the events. It is important to note that in the past the Israel Police did not believe the statements made by my client, and now suddenly his swaggering to an informant is taken at face value."