Five prisoners to be charged with aiding Gilboa jailbreak

Police say inmates worked with the six fugitives and assisted them; indictments formally end police probe into escape

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Mahmoud al-Arida, one of six security prisoners to escape Gilboa Prison, is seen at a hearing at the District Court in Nazareth, on September 11, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Mahmoud al-Arida, one of six security prisoners to escape Gilboa Prison, is seen at a hearing at the District Court in Nazareth, on September 11, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

State prosecutors said Wednesday that they intended to indict six prisoners who escaped Gilboa Prison earlier this month, as well as five other inmates suspected of helping them.

With the impending indictment of the captured fugitives and their alleged accomplices, the Israel Police and Shin Bet security service announced the end of their investigation into the prison break, one of the worst in the country’s history. However, a state commission will continue to investigate the escape and the potential failures by the prison staff, the Israel Prisons Service and other government offices that may have contributed to it.

On September 6, the six prisoners — five of them members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, along with notorious Fatah terrorist Zakaria Zubeidi — escaped from Gilboa Prison, making their way out through their cell’s drainage system and an empty space underneath the prison. They had reportedly begun digging in November, using plates, panhandles, building debris, and part of a metal hanger.

Two of them were captured in northern Israel within the first week, but two others made their way into the northern West Bank city of Jenin and hid out there until their arrest last week.

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 unmanned watchtowers and sleeping guards.

“As part of the investigation, five inmates from Gilboa Prison were suspected of cooperating and helping the six prisoners escape,” the police said Wednesday.

Prosecutors filed their intent to indict the 11 prisoners — the first step ahead of pressing formal charges — with the Nazareth District Court on Wednesday.

Last Friday, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev announced the makeup of a government commission to investigate the escape.

A statement from Barlev’s office said the panel would be headed by retired judge Menachem Finkelstein, who previously served as deputy head of the Central District Court and chief military prosecutor, among other posts.

The commission will also include Prof. Efrat Shoham, a criminologist at Ashkelon Academic College, and Arik Barbing, a former senior official in the Shin Bet security service.

The statement didn’t specify when the panel was expected to begin its work.

Barlev announced the planned commission days after the jailbreak, vowing to leave “no stone unturned” in investigating the causes of the prison escape.

Channel 12 news reported Thursday that the space underneath the prison will 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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