Security officials said Monday morning that they estimated six Palestinian prisoners managed to escape Gilboa prison – the escape took place that night – due to a flaw in its construction. .
“It appears in our initial investigation that the detainees did not dig anything [as initially planned and reported, Editor’s note]; rather, it seems that a plaque that covered the hole [through which they escaped] was removed, ”Katy Perry, commissioner of the prison service, told reporters hours after the escape.
Home Security Minister Omer Barlev said investigators were looking into the possibility of outside assistance to the fugitives.
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“This is a serious incident. We will catch up with the fugitives, ”Barlev said Monday morning. “It will take a day or two, a week or two – but we’ll catch up to them. ”
Barlev added that it appeared that the escape had been planned “in a precise and detailed manner”, noting that it was “likely that the detainees received outside assistance”.
The minister added that he did not think that the fugitives planned to carry out a terrorist attack, “but I am not soothsayer and we are considering all possibilities”.
The six inmates escaped from the Gilboa top-security prison in northern Israel in the early hours of Monday, using their cell drain. This incident is one of the largest escapes in the country’s history and resulted in a massive manhunt in the northern Jewish state and the West Bank.
A large number of police have been called in to assist and are now searching for the six detainees using drones and helicopters. The army and the Shin Bet are also participating in the search, and roadblocks have been set up.
Four of the six fugitives had received life sentences in connection with deadly terrorist attacks against Israelis; the fifth – a notorious commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorist group, Zakaria Zubeidi – was in prison awaiting trial where he faces 20 crimes including attempted murder. Another was in administrative detention. All of them are considered very dangerous.
There was an attempted escape from Gilboa prison in 2014, when guards discovered a tunnel dug under a toilet. The eight detainees who had been suspected of helping to dig the tunnel were members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and shared both the cell and the toilet. The tunnel was only discovered after extensive searches, before the prisoners managed to escape.
Barlev said on Monday that the escape attempt in 2014 allowed officials to realize the flaw in the building’s construction – a flaw that has evidently not been adequately addressed since.
“I went to the cell where the prisoners escaped,” Barlev told reporters. “On one side you can see the concrete that was added after 2014 but on the other side, after the shower was released, there is nothing,” he said.
Arik Yaacov, commander of the northern Israeli prison services, said in the morning that officials were still investigating how the detainees managed to escape.
“This incident is being investigated and we are investigating what happened,” he told reporters. “A tunnel hasn’t exactly been dug: there is an element in the structures of the prison cells that has been exploited. He added that there appeared to be “a loophole in the structures built on columns – a loophole that the prisoners apparently took advantage of.”
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