Israel on manhunt for terrorists: 6 security prisoners escape overnight

Israel Police Services confirmed that six security prisoners dug a tunnel and escaped from Gilboa Prison in the north, among them the former commander of the Jenin-based terrorist al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

By Atara Beck, World Israel News 

Six security prisoners escaped overnight from Gilboa Prison in the north, using a tunnel they had dug.

About an hour after guards noticed the prisoners were missing, the escape tunnel was discovered, Hebrew-language N12 news reported.

Helicopters and skimmers are patrolling the area.

Investigators estimate that the excavation of the tunnel took years and that outside the prison area, six escape vehicles were waiting to take them directly to the Palestinian Authority-run territories.

Among the prisoners who fled is Zakaria Zabeidi, former commander of Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Jenin who is suspected of carrying out a series of terrorist attacks. Residents of the PA city celebrated with fireworks upon learning of his escape.

It appears that the terrorists may have dug the tunnel under a toilet cubicle, managing to escape through the sewer shaft, N12 reported. According to one testimony, the report says, the first ones to discover the escape were farmers working in the area who thought they were fugitive thieves and reported the incident to police.

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Rather than the investigation, it is the manhunt — conducted by police together with the IDF and Israel Security Agency – that is the main focus now, regional police commander Lt. Gen. Shimon Ben Shabu emphasized.

“There will be some delay on the roads. Police forces will also enter the localities in the axes and in the rural areas. We are doing everything possible to get our hands on them as quickly as possible,” he said.

It is suspected the prisoners may have fled to the PA territories or even to Jordan. Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered reinforcements to the border crossings.

Internal Security Minister Amar Bar-Lev said that “it may take a day, two days, weeks or three, but we will catch the prisoners,” Channel 13 reported. “Our impression was that the planning was very accurate, so it is likely that they had outside assistance, but the issue is being investigated. We are currently taking all possibilities into account, including an attempted terror attack.”

“This is a “serious incident that requires the efforts of all security services,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Minister of the Interior Omer Bar-Lev.

The other prisoners in the Gilboa facility are being moved to other prisons across the country.

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A security source who spoke with N12 said this was a very embarrassing incident for the Israel Prison Services, given that the prisoners managed to plan a sophisticated escape for a long time without any intelligence information being revealed. He said what was left to do was to learn the lessons.