Following an hourslong manhunt, four members of a powerful crime family were arrested Monday night in connection with the killing of a rival gang chief earlier in the day.
The suspects, members of the Jarushi crime family, are thought to be involved in an underground hit in the central town of Azor that killed Benny Shlomo, leader of the Shlomo crime family.
Three were arrested while they were driving near the central city of Gadera, while the other suspect was arrested at Ben Gurion Airport. The four men were taken in for questioning by police on suspicion of murder.
Shortly after 2 p.m. on Monday, a pair of unknown gunmen arrived at a gas station in Azor and opened fire on Shlomo and his bodyguard, Vladislav Povolotsky, who was standing nearby. The mob boss died of his wounds, while his guard was seriously injured and remains hospitalized.
An off-duty cop — who was fueling up his motorcycle at the scene when the shooting began — pursued the gunmen as they drove away from the gas station, according to Hebrew media reports. As he pulled up beside them, the assailants rammed their car into his bike.
The policeman, who wasn’t injured, shot at the culprits as they abandoned their vehicle and then carjacked a woman on the other side of the road. They managed to get away unharmed in the stolen vehicle, the reports said.
רגע המעצר של החושדים בחיסול בני שלמה.
גורם במשטרה אומר כי נבדק הקשר בין החשודים המשתייכים לארגון של ג׳רושי לבין דומרני. לדבריו: ״גורמים במשפחת ג'רושי, נחשבים מקורבים מאוד לשלום דומרני, ולא פעם אנשי הארגון ביצעו משימות עבור ארגוני פשיעה, תמורת כספים שקיבלו״. pic.twitter.com/LpVivXsBkk
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According to Channel 12 news, police received an alert shortly before the shooting that a vehicle bearing a duplicate license place number had left the area of Lod and Ramle, but police stations were not warned of a potential underworld hit.
The police’s initial assessment was that Shlomo’s death was orchestrated by longtime criminal rival Shalom Domrani, and are investigating the possibility that Domrani forged an alliance with the powerful Arab Israeli Jarushi crime family in order to carry out the suspected hit, the Haaretz daily reported.
The authorities speculated that Shlomo’s organization would not wait around to avenge their boss’s death.
Shlomo was once Domrani’s right-hand man, but left his former partner’s organization to establish his own, taking some of Domrani’s men with him. Since then, the two have been at war.
According to Channel 12, police warned Shlomo that he was a target and that rival gangs had placed an order for him to stay away from the south of the country, where he was previously based. This led him to move his official residence to the Tel Aviv area.
Shlomo was in Turkey up until a few days ago, and on Monday night, he was scheduled to fly to Madrid. The same day, the mob boss was reportedly called to attend a business meeting at the gas station in Azor, where he was gunned down. Police are investigating if the gathering was designed to trap Shlomo, the report said.
Over the past year, the two crime families have apparently stepped up attacks against each other. In May, police intercepted a Domrani hit squad that was reportedly on its way to kill a senior member of Shlomo’s gang.
Avi Bitton, known by police as a “moneyman” for Domrani’s gang, was killed in a car bombing in the southern city of Ashkelon in February.
Benny Shlomo himself has survived several assassination attempts over the years. His brother, Shalom Shlomo, was shot to death in 2015.
Domrani was released from prison last October after serving six years for two attempted murder convictions, and has since then allegedly been working to strengthen and financially rehabilitate his organization.
His exit from prison came after Shlomo was also released last August, having served time for assault.