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‘Bikerbank’ Bandit Enthralls the Nation


TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ He walks into the bank wearing his crash helmet and tells a teller to put the cash in a plastic bag. Then he fires one shot from his .38-caliber Smith and Wesson pistol into the ceiling, strolls out and vanishes on his red motorcycle.

″Bikerbank″ struck for the 20th time today in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva.

For nearly two years, police have searched for clues to track down the elusive robber while the public has looked on, enthralled by the cool precision that characterizes his crimes.

State television has done a prime-time report on his exploits. The daily Hadashot is running a series of articles, trying to pierce the mystery of the man hiding behind the nickname and the dark visor.

An ex-commando? A former policeman? Theories abound.

His adversary is a tough, mustachioed detective known to colleagues as Shogun. He is Deputy Superintendent Chaim Pinchas, head of special investigations in the Tel Aviv force.

Shogun’s prestige is at stake in the case. Bikerbank has robbed 20 banks in 12 towns in 21 months, leaving no clue - just one fingerprint that draws a blank in the police computer. The police, with their helicopters and roadblocks, have been unable to snare him.

He strikes between 10 a.m. and noon. He always robs the teller nearest to the door. He’s about 6 feet tall, wears cowboy boots and, according to some witnesses, has a slight limp. He rides a high-powered Suzuki motorcycle.

Bikerbank’s loot, so far, totals slightly more than $150,000.

″He took out a gun, showed it to everybody ... and shouted: ‘This is a robbery.’ He went straight for the counter,″ Reuven Avraham, an official at a Bank Leumi branch in suburban Tel Aviv, recalled on Israel Television.

″He did not care whether we pushed the buttons or used silent alarm systems. I think he was there no longer than a minute and a half,″ Avraham said.

Officers have spent hours on stakeouts and roadblocks. Dozens of bikers have been questioned. Some adorn their helmets and bikes with stickers proclaiming ″I’m not the robber.″

At least four suspects, including a reserve Air Force officer, have been held. Vehicle registry records have been no help, and it is believed his bike was bought from a tourist and not registered.

When Bikerbank first struck in February 1989, the customer behind him thought it was a joke and interfered, forcing the robber to flash his pistol and fire in the air.

″Today, his actions are completely professional. ... He knows where to find the weak spots of the police,″ investigator Pinchas said.

″I don’t think he has a criminal background. I think he comes from a good family. Either he saw a lot of movies ... or had contact with criminals and decided to go along this way,″ Amnon Halper, a former senior detective, told Israel army radio.

To compound police embarrassment, Bikerbank twice has struck while suspects were being held.

″At some stage he began to provoke the police. ... It has become something beyond robbery,″ Pinchas says.

If the public is not outraged by Bikerbank, it may be because it hasn’t forgiven the banks for the 1983 stock market crash that wiped out many people’s savings. Israelis blame the banks for manipulating the prices of their own shares to keep them artificially high.

The robber’s nickname, Ofnobank, is an acronym of the Hebrew words for biker and bank, a play on the catchy acronyms the banks use to advertise their services.

″Some in the public have some sympathy for the man, but we have to remember it’s a real robbery, a weapon is being used and it’s a serious violation of the law,″ says Police Minister Roni Milo.

Still, as long as Bikerbank doesn’t shoot anyone, his scampish image is likely to endure.

″I think the sympathy would be the same if he robbed government ministries or post offices, anything linked to the establishment,″ said Noam Pinto, a spokesman for Bank Hapoalim.

″It’s very frightening,″ Pinto said. ″So far nobody has been hurt, but we worry for the safety of the workers and the public. The workers are under orders to hand out the money without provoking or opposing him.″

Shogun vows:

″I will get him. It does not matter if he continues or stops. One day we will get him.″

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