Israeli mob swears vengeance as it buries boss

Police expect retaliation after car bomb kills underworld kingpin
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The Independent Online

For a moment, as the first few of the hundreds of mourners came up the cypress-lined avenue to the main cemetery on the edge of this prosperous satellite town outside Tel Aviv, the menfolk donning kippas, you could have mistaken it for any Israeli funeral.

But that was before the advent of a disproportionate number of BMWs driven by men in large shades and, after the obsequies had begun, the principal mourner being hidden in a six-van police convoy, complete with a motorcycle escort from the elite special unit of the prison police.

Dror Alperon buried his father, Yaakov, yesterday after armed police led him unceremoniously through a gap between bushes and the cemetery wall. And he left the same way.

The dead man's brothers, Nissim and Salman, had also been among the last to arrive, embraced by well-wishers as they walked towards the cemetery and guarded by 30 well-built men who had disturbed the tense quiet of the occasion with their noisily menacing arrival 10 minutes beforehand, in two lines of motorbikes.

Earlier, a lieutenant of Ron Arari, another underworld boss, had softly but clearly told TV crews holding their mikes over the conversing mourners: "We need some privacy. We don't want to say unpleasant things. Take all the microphones out." The crews melted away. Later, as Dror Alperon was escorted back into the van to return him to jail, young adherents of the clan told photographers: "Get out of here or we will break your cameras."

It was after leaving the Tel Aviv District Court where his son Dror was being indicted on extortion and other charges on Monday that Yaakov Alperon, probably Israel's most famous crime boss, was killed. His rented car was blown up by a remote-control explosive device which also injured two bystanders, including a 13-year-old boy.

Police are bracing themselves for vengeance after the dead man's sister said at his grave: "These are murderers, bad people. The ones who did this will have the same done to their kids."

The case has thrown a fresh and unwelcome spotlight on a spate of mob violence. In July, an innocent 31-year-old woman was shot dead in front of her children on a beach near Tel Aviv in a botched assassination attempt on another underworld figure.

The Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, addressed public concern yesterday, saying that police operations targeting organised crime needed "shaking up".

Alperon was something of a Tony Soprano-like celebrity among Israeli crime bosses, often giving wisecracking television interviews in which he would deny any wrongdoing. He even appeared on a reality TV show.

But much of the clan's money-making activities were in deadly earnest. They reportedly included a protection racket in Netanya, in which restaurateurs paid in bottles which the Alperons sent for recycling and then pocketed the profits: no paper trail, no tell-tale cash handovers, and reputedly a $5m (£3.3m) business. There have also been struggles for control of betting rings; gambling is illegal in Israel.

Although Alperon was said to be in a turf war with another clan, the Abergils, over the recycling business, it is not clear that police are pursuing that line of inquiry. Reports suggest Alp-eron had other enemies, including the drug baron Zeev Rosenstein, who survived seven assassination attempts before being put away. And Alperon was widely blamed,fairly or not, for the stabbing of another gangster, Amir Mulner, after both men attended an interfamily arbitration summit in 2006 which went badly wrong.