Police increasingly suspect that Prisons Service staff aided in the escape of six security prisoners who fled Gilboa Prison earlier this week, according to a Wednesday television report.
Kan news said two Prisons Service members are to be questioned under caution on Thursday in connection with decision-making that led to the escape of the six Palestinians, in what is considered to be one of the most serious jailbreaks in the country’s history.
As searches for the fugitives continue, senior officials from the service were summoned for questioning on Tuesday evening, Kan reported. Earlier that day, at least 14 Prisons Service staff were questioned by police amid suspicions that the escapees may have had assistance.
The six escapees include Zakaria Zubeidi, a notorious commander in Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terror group, who was in prison while on trial for two dozen crimes, including attempted murder. Four escapees were in jail for life in connection with deadly attacks against Israelis and affiliation with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group.
A shopowner in a town in northern Israel claims Zubeidi entered his store on Monday morning, a few hours after the escape from the prison, Channel 12 news reported.
Zubeidi asked for food, a phone call and a ride, but was dismissed by the man, the network said. Zubeidi then left on foot.
Authorities suspect that the fugitives split up following the escape from the prison. They ran some 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) after exiting the hole dug underneath the prison walls, police officials said. There, some of them are believed to have boarded a getaway vehicle.
The six prisoners escaped via a tunnel in their cell’s drainage system, though officials said that a security flaw meant that they did not need to excavate to create a passage out.
The tunnel’s exit was just a few meters away from a guard tower, but the guard in the tower had fallen asleep on the job while the group escaped.
A source involved in the investigation told the Haaretz daily that the fugitives spent some 15 minutes outside the prison wall, underneath the guard tower, without being noticed by other prison staff. The area next to the guard tower is filmed with multiple security cameras, which provide feeds to the prison’s control center that should have been under observation at the time. The guard in the tower has reportedly acknowledged sleeping through the entire incident.
According to Hebrew media reports, police and prison officials made several severe mistakes, with a litany of blunders allowing the breakout to occur in the first place, and a failure to grasp the severity of the situation for several hours after it occurred.
It was not clear if the escapees were still in Israeli territory, or had crossed into the West Bank or even Jordan.
Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.