Israeli Police Searching for Six Inmates Who Escaped High-Security Prison Through Tunnel
One of the escaped individuals is Zakaria Zubeidi - a commander of Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is a coalition of armed groups designated as a terrorist organisation in a number of countries, including Israel.
A large-scale search operation has been launched in the West Bank after six inmates of Israel's Gilboa Prison managed to escape from their cell in the early hours of Monday morning.
"Large police forces, together with border police personnel and the army, launched searches after being notified of the escape of six prisoners from Gilboa," the Israeli police said in a statement.
The massive manhunt includes dogs and aerial support, the police added.
Apart from police officers, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), Border Police and the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) have also been involved in the search. Roadblocks have now been set up by the IDF in the West Bank in an attempt to prevent prisoners from escaping into neighbouring Jordan.
The list of runaway inmates, as released by the Israel Prison Service, includes Mondal Ainfaat; brothers Mahmad Aardiya and Muhammed Aardiya; Yakub Kadari and Iham Kamagi. These five individuals are described by the Israeli service as affiliated to "Islamic Jihad".
The last one, 45-year-old Zakaria Zubeidi, is listed as belonging to Fatah. Zubeidi, one of the leaders of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Fatah's military wing (designated as a terrorist organisation by Israel), has been accused of committing multiple terror attacks and was in prison through the duration of his trial.
How Did They Manage to Run Away?
The six prisoners shared a cell and according a statement from the prison service, managed to escape "by means of an opening" - a tunnel, as it was put by the Israeli media.
The Times of Israel cites the prison officials as saying that the inmates did not dig the whole tunnel themselves but rather shovelled their way into an existing gap and then used it to run away, exiting through another tunnel into a road.
The Jerusalem Post reported, meanwhile, that prisoners used a "rusty spoon" for their elaborate escape - while hiding it behind a poster.
The prison officials became aware of the escape in the early hours of Monday morning, as one local farmer had reportedly notified the police after seeing the six individuals running through his field.
“I just passed by the prison and I saw some suspicious people walking around. Maybe you should tell them to do a patrol or something,” the man reportedly told the police, according to a recording of the call quoted by the Times of Israel.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that the incident "will require the efforts of all security services".
Defence Minister Benny Gantz is being updated about the operation, according to his office.