Four Israelis are being held in connection with a scheme to extort money from the family member of an African migrant held against his will in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Israeli police said on Sunday.
Three of the men, Jewish Israelis, are suspected of having collected $13,000 (10,000 euros) from an Eritrean migrant inside Israel, who was told that a kidnapped relative being held in Sinai would be killed unless he paid the ransom.
The men were allegedly acting on the instructions of Imad Abu Arar, a Gaza resident and Hamas member, who told them to hand the money to Louay Nasseredin, an Israeli Arab and Hamas member who is also in police custody.
The Jerusalem district attorney’s office filed charges against two of the suspects, Yaakov Grad and Eliran Moshe. Nasseredin and a fourth suspect have not yet been charged.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP that Nasseredin was planning to hand over the money to Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip Palestinian enclave.
“The intention was that the money would be transferred to Hamas, but it was recovered before the transfer,” he said.
According to the interior ministry, there are currently approximately 59,000 African migrants in Israel who entered the country illegally. Of these, 36,000 are Eritrean and 15,000 are Sudanese.
Israel earlier this year launched a major campaign to round up and deport illegal African migrants, sparking an outcry from rights groups.