Six Palestinian inmates, including a terror group’s former commander, escaped from a high-security prison in Israel through a tunnel they dug from their cell, sparking a massive manhunt Monday, officials said.
Police and military officials put up roadblocks and launched searches for the prisoners following the overnight breakout at the Gilboa prison in northern Israel, Reuters reported.
Video showed Israeli officials inspecting the tunnel at the lockup where the escaped prisoners — five members of the Islamic Jihad movement plus the former commander for the militant Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade — were held.
The Palestinian Prisoners’ Club identified the men as ranging in age from 26 to 49 years old and included Zakaria Zubeidi, a 46-year-old leader in the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade who had been imprisoned since 2019. Four of the other escapees were serving life sentences, according to the group.
The facility, roughly 2 miles away from the West Bank border, is known as one of Israel’s most secure prisons and houses Palestinians convicted or accused of deadly attacks.
Zubeidi was a former commander whose militants carried out attacks against Israelis during the second Palestinian uprising that began in 2000, Reuters reported.
The other detainees were identified as Monadel Yacoub Nafe’at, 26, Yaqoub Qassem, Yaqoub Mahmoud Qadri, 49, Ayham Nayef Kamamji, 35, and Mahmoud Abdullah Ardah, 46, according to Al Jazeera, citing local reports.
The prisoners, who likely shared the same cell, appeared to have some outside help with the tunnel that was dug beneath a toilet, according to Al Jazeera.
Israel’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett, characterized the escape as a “grave incident” and vowed an “across-the-board” effort to get the prisoners back in custody following the escape just hours before the country was set to mark the Jewish New Year.
Security forces suspect the escaped prisoners may try to reach the West Bank or the Jordanian border some 9 miles away, Reuters reported.
Palestinian militant groups hailed the escape from one of Israeli’s most fortified prisons.
“This is a great heroic act, which will cause a severe shock to the Israeli security system and will constitute a severe blow to the army and the entire system in Israel,” Islamic Jihad spokesman Dauod Shebab said.
A spokesman for Hamas said the breakout shows that the “will and determination” of its brave soldiers “cannot be defeated,” Reuters reported.
Authorities do not suspect that the escaped prisoners pose a threat to the general public, Bennett said.
Police commander Shimon Ben Shabo said forces were ready Monday and “available to arrive at any location” in response to sightings of the prisoners as Israeli helicopters flew Monday over Jenin, a Palestinian city in the northern West Bank
With Post Wires