Police and military officials are beefing up security across Israel on Monday, the eve of Rosh Hashanah, hours after a notorious terror chief, four other convicted terrorists and a terror suspect escaped from a high-security prison.
Security officials are most concerned that the six men could carry out a terrorist attack against Israeli civilians, though leading figures have indicated that it is unlikely.
Avi Bitton, the head of the police operations division, said that the security alert across the country has risen due to the prison break.
“We’re not ruling out the possibility that they could attempt to carry out an attack,” said Bitton. “From the time that has passed since the escape until now [close to 12 hours later], the terrorists could be at any place in the country.”
Bitton said that police are also “taking into consideration the possibility that the terrorists are still here [near the prison] and planning an attack.”
According to a Ynet report, defense officials believe the six men have crossed into the West Bank and are receiving assistance in remaining undetected from residents there.
But according to the news site, Israel Defense Forces officials are not carrying out extensive searches or roadblocks in the areas near their families’ homes, in the hope that the prisoners slip up and reveal themselves.
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said earlier that he doesn’t believe an attack by the escapees is likely, “but I am not a prophet and we are taking all possibilities into consideration.”
Police and prison officials have said that they believe the suspects are still in Israeli territory, and are working to ensure they do not escape into Jordan.
Large numbers of police officers were called to the area around the prison, located northwest of Beit She’an, near the Sea of Galilee, to search for the six fugitives with the help of drones and helicopters. The military and Shin Bet were also helping search for the suspects, and checkpoints were put up in the area.
Checkpoints were also put up elsewhere in the country, including near the Gaza Strip, with the Ynet news site citing concerns that the escaped prisoners could try to flee to the coastal enclave.
Four of the six fugitives were in jail for life in connection with deadly attacks against Israelis; another — a notorious commander in Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terror group, Zakaria Zubeidi — was in prison while on trial for two dozen crimes, including attempted murder. All six were considered highly dangerous.
The commander of the Israel Police’s Northern District said that there were no security advisories in place for residents of the area following the incident, but urged them to exercise increased vigilance.
“There is no reason to change your routines, but there will be large numbers of troops within the cities of Afula and Beit She’an and in other towns. I do request additional awareness of anything suspicious,” Northern District chief Shimon Ben Shabo said in a statement.