Posted Monday, October 18, 1999

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October 16, 1999

Ultra Orthodox Jews Running Drug Empire

By Deborah Camiel

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Ultra-Orthodox Jews served as couriers for a major international drugs ring that operated in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Israel and the United States, Israeli police said Tuesday.

The syndicate, led by two Israelis living in Europe, was one of the world's largest producers of the synthetic drug ecstasy, police said.

Updating arrest figures announced by Dutch police Monday after dawn raids on the ring's drug laboratories in the Netherlands, Israeli police said at a news conference that 41 suspects had been detained overseas and another eight in Israel.

"The couriers were young Americans and Israelis, most of them ultra-Orthodox Jews," an Israeli police spokesman said. He declined to say whether they wore traditional black garb on their smuggling runs.

About one million ecstasy tablets were seized by police in Israel and abroad, the spokesman said.

Twenty-four Israelis, most of them living overseas, were among those arrested.

Two Israelis, one residing in the Netherlands and the other in Belgium, were the masterminds behind the operation, and an ultra-Orthodox man recruited young religious Jews to smuggle the drugs. All three are in custody, Israeli police said.

Dutch police said Monday's raids on 35 addresses in the Netherlands and the Belgium city of Antwerp marked the culmination of a three-year investigation.

Along with laboratory equipment used in making synthetic drugs, five kilograms (11 lbs) of Semtex high explosive as well as weapons, cars and money were also recovered, a Dutch police spokeswoman said.

Israeli police said an Israeli undercover agent had been key to busting the ring.

The agent, who appeared at the Jerusalem news conference disguised with a wig and false mustache, managed to buy 60,000 ecstasy tablets from the main suspect in the investigation during 10 months of undercover work in the Netherlands, police said.

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