Cops arrest suspected ringleader of gang that stole 33 IDF rifles
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Cops arrest suspected ringleader of gang that stole 33 IDF rifles

Police say suspect, a resident of Arab town in northern Israel, found hiding in an apartment after eluding capture for weeks

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

M16 rifles seized by police following the theft of rifles from an army base on May 27, 2017. (Israel Police)
M16 rifles seized by police following the theft of rifles from an army base on May 27, 2017. (Israel Police)

Police arrested the suspected ringleader of a gun trafficking network that is believed to have stolen 33 M-16 assault rifles from an IDF base earlier this year, police said Thursday.

The group is believed to have broken into a weapons arsenal on the Sde Teiman army base in the south of the country on May 26 and stolen 33 M-16 assault rifles.

Earlier this month, police arrested six suspected members of the gun trafficking ring. Eleven of the rifles were recovered, along with three other weapons. Cops also found various illegal drugs, including ecstasy. They confiscated NIS 1 million ($285,000) in cash and four vehicles allegedly used in the robbery, valued at NIS 400,000 ($115,000), police said at the time.

Those six arrests led to the suspected ringleader, who was arrested on Thursday. Police said they found him hiding in an apartment in northern Israel.

Ammunition and magazines seized by police following the theft of rifles from an army base on May 27, 2017. (Israel Police)
Ammunition and magazines seized by police following the theft of rifles from an army base on May 27, 2017. (Israel Police)

His name has yet to be released. Police would say only that he is from the Arab town of Kafr Qara in northern Israel.

The suspect was interrogated following his arrest and was expected to be brought before a judge later in the day on Thursday, police said.

After police arrested the first six suspects, they described the raid as one of the biggest police hauls in recent years.

“This is a serious case of theft of dozens of weapons from a military base, and trading with weapons in both the north and the south of the country,” police said in the statement.

Illegal weapon seized by police following the theft of rifles from an army base on May 27, 2017. (Police spokesperson)
Illegal weapon seized by police following the theft of rifles from an army base on May 27, 2017. (Police spokesperson)

The theft served as a catalyst for the military to increase its security protocols for armories. A week after the guns were stolen, the army announced that it was investing NIS 15 million ($4.2 million) into additional security measures for on-base armories.

The army said it will install a number of new security measures in military armories in order to prevent such an incident in the future, or at least make it more difficult. These measures will include biometric scanners, additional cameras and improved locks.

On May 28 police were notified of the break-in and theft at the Sde Teiman army base, in the northern Negev.

Contractors who were painting the army base at that time became the prime suspects. As the undercover investigation continued other suspects from the north of the country were identified.

Illegal weapons seized by police following the theft of rifles from an army base on May 27, 2017. (Police spokesperson)
Illegal weapons seized by police following the theft of rifles from an army base on May 27, 2017. (Police spokesperson)

During questioning the suspects said that they had carefully planned the details of the theft and gained the trust of the soldiers who were supposed to be guarding them as they worked on the base. One of the two broke the lock on the arsenal, filled their car with the weapons and placed a new lock on the door. The theft was noticed only a couple of days later.

On the day of the theft, the two sold 10 of the weapons to crime organizations in the south, and 18 to criminal groups in the north. Four days later they sold a further five weapons in the north. The weapons were hidden in the trunk of a car, and the buyers and sellers met at a service station on Route 6, where they switched vehicles. Payment was made a few days later.

Two of the men arrested, form the Beersheba area, are accused of stealing the weapons, and the four from the north are accused of purchasing the weapons.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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