Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Benny Sela - Dangerous Rapist Still on the Run in Israel

Sela escaped prison Nov. 24The image “http://www.theawarenesscenter.org/BennySela1.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Israel Panicked About Rapist on the Run
By Michael Hastings and Joanna Chen
December 2, 2006

A convicted serial rapist is striking fear into a city that should have been enjoying a new calm.

Dec. 2, 2006 - The current wave of terror sweeping Israel has nothing to do with suicide bombers or rocket attacks, but the dumbfounding escape of convicted serial rapist Benny Sela. The 35-year old escaped police custody in Tel Aviv on Nov. 24, and his disappearance immediately plunged the city into a state of near panic. He’s now the target of the largest manhunt in Israel’s history: 2,000 police officers have been called in from across the country, along with teams of sniffing dogs, surveillance helicopters, female undercover units and some 8,000 volunteers.

There have been more than 500 reported sightings of Sela, and Israeli authorities say a hotline dedicated to Sela’s capture is receiving between 1,500 and 2,000 phone calls a day. Posters of his mug shot have been plastered in most major cities, and the airwaves have been dominated by Sela fever. One radio show was dedicated just to callers who had been mistaken for Sela themselves. (A number of Sela look-alikes have been arrested.) “He’s caused a lot of panic in a lot of Tel Aviv neighborhoods,” says Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesperson for the Israeli National Police. “Taking into account his pattern of behavior, he is obviously capable of attacking again.”

The pressure for police to catch Sela is intense. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison after being convicted in 2000 of raping 14 women, half of whom were teenagers. His hunting ground was Tel Aviv: He would break into apartments in the early morning, rape the women, force them to shower, then flee, taking the linens and other evidence with him. At least three times he videotaped his crime. While in prison, he sent letters to his victims that detailed his crimes and asked for forgiveness.

Adding to the pressure on police is the embarrassing way Sela escaped: he was taken to a courthouse in Tel Aviv on a Friday morning because of a clerical error (courts aren’t open on Friday; authorities say a secretary meant to ask for his file, not the criminal himself). With only two guards watching him—one was reportedly talking on a cell phone—Sela managed to leap over the courthouse walls. A later investigation found his shackles weren’t buckled properly. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter hinted to the Israeli press last week that senior police and Prisons Service officials could pay the price for Sela's escape. "The Israel Police and the Prisons Service will undergo the necessary revolutions to make them worthy of the people of Israel. That is my mission as the minister responsible, that is the mandate placed in my hands by the people and the prime minister."

The sad irony: the public had reason to relax, given the Palestinian ceasefire agreement put into place last week to bring at least temporary quiet after years of war. “I’ve started locking the windows and door all the time, even when I’m at home,” says Denise Abutbul, a mother of three who lives in a Tel Aviv suburb. “The first night, [my kids and I] slept curled up together in the same bed, I was so scared. I work in Sderot and, to tell you the truth, Benny Sela on the loose scares me much more than any Kassam rockets landing in Sderot.”

According to the head of security in a village north of Tel Aviv, even the police are “freaked out.” This official, who asked not to be named discussing an ongoing investigation, says he was called to a late-night meeting last week where he was warned that Sela “may show up in the guise of someone looking to settle in the area, perhaps to rent a house, or just look for work.” Authorities say Sela has the skills to live outdoors for long stretches of time, and some have said that he’ll try to get on a yacht out of the country. The last confirmed sighting, says Rosenfeld, the police spokesman, was the day Sela escaped: a resident saw him changing, and police later found the pants he’d worn in prison.


Post a Comment

<< Home