Reputed Mob Boss, 3 Bystanders Hurt in Suspected Mob Hit in Netanya

Charlie Abutbul, brother of Felix who was killed outside his casino in Praque in 2002, critically hurt in shooting.

Assailants on a motor scooter fired into a Netanya cafe on Monday, wounding one person critically and three others moderately, in a suspected gangland assassination attempt.

The man critically injured is Charlie Abutbul, the brother of the late, alleged crime boss Felix Abutbul from Netanya, who was killed outside his casino in Prague in 2002. Police suspect that Charlie Abutbul, who has a criminal record for running gambling ships off Eilat, was the target of yesterday's shooting. The other three were innocent bystanders.

One possibility that police are investigating is that the shooting stemmed from a dispute between the Abutbul family and an organization headed by Ricky Shirazi. Police believe that the two groups are battling for control of illegal casinos in the Netanya area, which is currently a Shirazi stronghold, and that Shirazi fears an Abutbul move into his territory would undermine his power.

If so, police are afraid that yesterday's hit on Abutbul will lead to an escalation of violence between the two gangs.

However, the police are also examining other possibilities, including a battle between the Abutbul and Abergil organizations; an internal power struggle within the Abutbul family; or a business dispute that turned violent.

At about 1 P.M. yesterday, two helmet-wearing men on a motorbike rode to the entrance of cafe-restaurant Offside on Netanya's Pinkas Street. Police said that one of them entered the cafe and fired several shots, hitting Abutbul, who was sitting and drinking coffee, as well as three others at nearby tables.

The shooter returned to the waiting motor scooter, and the two fled from the scene.

Abutbul was taken by a Magen David Adom team to Hadera's Hillel Yaffeh Medical Center. The police International Crimes Investigation unit has started an investigation.

Brigadier General Kobi Cohen told Israel Radio: "The initial facts are that one or two assailants on mopeds arrived at the kiosk and shot at a number of people who were there. The people were wounded as a result of the gunfire."

Netanya Police Commander Ron Gertner said at the shooting site yesterday: "This is a complex investigation. Our best detectives are gathering findings. The police arrived at the scene quickly and we found eyewitnesses. This is a serious incident, innocent bystanders were hurt. I hope to capture the criminals who carried out the shooting."

Abutbul's associates said yesterday that he "had no enemies." One associate said "Charlie feared nobody and didn't expect anyone to hurt him."

However, Abutbul was recently warned by the police to "be careful," though police stressed that they had no specific intelligence of an intent to assassinate him.

Attorney Revital Swaid, who represents Charlie Abutbul, yesterday evening said that her client had undergone surgery and that doctors described his condition as "serious, and still life-threatening."

"When I left the hospital he was being transferred out of intensive care for a CAT scan," she said, adding that the question of who had shot Abutbul will "occupy the police for a long time."

Swaid went on to say that the Abutbul family was shocked by the incident. "In recent years, Charlie didn't have a bodyguard and he has maintained a normal, regular and routine lifestyle. This was very surprising for them.

"When I look at Charlie's life over recent years," Swaid continued, "with the exception of the casino yacht case, I can't say that there was any criminal activity whatsoever." (She was referring to a 2004 case, in which police seized five boats that were suspected of operating offshore casinos near Eilat.)

In March, three people were wounded, two of them seriously, when a gunman opened fire in a Netanya restaurant located next door to another eatery owned by Charlie Abutbul's son Francois, also a reputed underworld figure.