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Escapee called brother from bakery, asked him to bring car

6 Gilboa Prison escapees and 5 alleged accomplices indicted over jailbreak

Palestinian security prisoners charged with escaping detention, 5 other prisoners accused of assisting; no terror-related offenses listed in the charges

Clockwise from top left: Zakaria Zubeidi, Yaquob Qadiri, Iham Kamamji, Mahmoud al-Arida and Munadil Nafiyat Courtesy) and Mohammed al-Arida (Flash 90)
Clockwise from top left: Zakaria Zubeidi, Yaquob Qadiri, Iham Kamamji, Mahmoud al-Arida and Munadil Nafiyat Courtesy) and Mohammed al-Arida (Flash 90)

Six prisoners who escaped Gilboa Prison last month along with five other inmates who allegedly assisted them were indicted on Sunday, the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

State prosecutors filed indictments at Nazareth Magistrate’s Court against Zakaria Zubeidi, Mahmoud al-Arida, Munadil Nafiyat, Muhammad al-Arida, Yaquob Qadiri, and Iham Kamamji on charges of escaping detention.

Apart from notorious Fatah commander Zubeidi, the other five are members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group. Nafiyat, unlike the others, had not been charged with a crime and was being held under Israel’s practice of administrative detention, which allows it to imprison suspects without filing charges for security purposes.

The other prisoners accused of helping with the jailbreak are Mohammad Abu Ashreen, Qusai Mar’i, Ali Abu Bakr and his cousin Mohammad Abu Bakr, and Iyad Jradat, all Palestinians from the Jenin area.

The five are accused of standing watch to make sure that any approaching guards did not discover the digging in the cell and to prevent other prisoners from entering. Some also helped with getting rid of soil dug out of the tunnel, prosecutors said.

None of the 11 prisoners will face charges on terror-related offenses.

A court hearing for the six prisoners who escaped from the Gilboa prison, at the court in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth, October 3, 2021 (David Cohen/Flash90)

According to the indictment, the tunneling plan was devised at the end of 2020 by Muhammad al-Arida, who asked Qadiri, Kamamji and Nafiyat to join him. At the end of March, Muhammad’s cousin Mahmoud al-Arida joined as well.

When the tunnel was nearly finished, the al-Arida cousins, along with Jradat, asked Zubeidi if he wanted to join so that he could use his ties in the Palestinian Authority to help them after the escape.

The plan envisioned them being arrested by the PA, which would protect them from Israeli authorities. Zubeidi agreed and asked for a transfer to their wing.

Zakaria Zubeidi, a notorious Fatah terrorist recaptured after breaking out of Gilboa Prison with five other security prisoners, arrives for a hearing at the District Court in Nazareth, on September 11, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

On September 5 he was moved to their cell and that night the six of them escaped, making their way out through their cell’s drainage system and an empty space underneath the prison. They took with them a change of clothes and some food, and radios in orders to be able to follow news updates of what was happening during the search for them.

They had reportedly begun digging in November, using plates, panhandles, building debris, and part of a metal hanger. Engineers who examined the site reportedly believe they may have weakened a 20-centimeter (8-inch) thick concrete slab under their cell with the repeated application of acidic liquids, or even cola drinks.

The group reached Na’ura, a northern Israeli village, from where Mahmoud al-Arida called his brother from a phone in a bakery and asked him to bring a car to take them to the West Bank. When that didn’t work out, the escapees decided to split into groups of two to stymie their pursuers.

The escape exposed a series of lapses at the prison, including a failure to learn lessons from previous escape attempts and several operational blunders such as apparently unmanned watchtowers and sleeping guards.

A prison guard is seen in a watch tower at Gilboa prison, in northern Israel, September 6, 2021. (Flash90)

Days after the escape, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev announced that a state commission would investigate the escape and potential lapses committed by the prison staff, the Israel Prisons Service and other government offices that may have contributed to it.

Prison authorities have dispersed the six recaptured prisoners to five prisons across the country, the Kan public broadcaster reported Friday, in an apparent bid to stop them plotting a fresh break.

Channel 12 news reported last week that the space underneath the prison would be filled with cement, using techniques developed by the military to prevent cross-border attack tunnels from the Gaza Strip. The prisons service will also adopt other measures to improve security at Gilboa, including new warning and advanced detection systems that use artificial intelligence, according to the report.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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