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Security forces search for last 2 fugitives, warn they are desperate, dangerous

‘They have nothing to lose,’ police official warns; commissioner says he’ll hold off celebrating until all back in custody; at least one escapee likely in West Bank

  • Members of Israeli security forces search a woodland area between the northern Israeli cities of Afula and Nazareth, on September 11, 2021, amid a manhunt for Palestinian jailbreakers. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
    Members of Israeli security forces search a woodland area between the northern Israeli cities of Afula and Nazareth, on September 11, 2021, amid a manhunt for Palestinian jailbreakers. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
  • Members of Israeli security forces search a woodland area between the northern Israeli cities of Afula and Nazareth, on September 11, 2021, amid a manhunt for Palestinian jailbreakers. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
    Members of Israeli security forces search a woodland area between the northern Israeli cities of Afula and Nazareth, on September 11, 2021, amid a manhunt for Palestinian jailbreakers. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
  • IDF trackers search a woodland area in northern Israel, on September 11, 2021, amid a manhunt for Palestinian jailbreakers. (Israel Defense Forces)
    IDF trackers search a woodland area in northern Israel, on September 11, 2021, amid a manhunt for Palestinian jailbreakers. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Police are seen in the northern village of Sandala village as they search for six escaped Palestinian security prisoners, on September 10, 2021. (Flash90)
    Police are seen in the northern village of Sandala village as they search for six escaped Palestinian security prisoners, on September 10, 2021. (Flash90)
  • Police are seen in the northern village of Sandala as they search for escaped Palestinian security prisoners, on September 10, 2021. (Flash90)
    Police are seen in the northern village of Sandala as they search for escaped Palestinian security prisoners, on September 10, 2021. (Flash90)

Security forces continued to search on Saturday for the last two escaped Palestinian prisoners who remained on the run, after the capture of four inmates who broke out of prison earlier this week.

Authorities believed that at least one of the remaining fugitives fled to the northern West Bank, where all six of the prisoners hail from.

“The estimation is that one has succeeded to get to the West Bank. The other one could be on either side of the Green Line,” Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said in an interview on Channel 12.

“We will catch them,” he added.

The two escapees still on the run are Iham Kamamji and Munadil Nafiyat, both of whom are members of the Islamic Jihad terror group.

Kamamji was serving a life sentence at the time of Monday’s escape, for killing an 18-year-old Israeli in 2006, a murder he reportedly expressed pride in.

Nafayat has not been charged with a crime other than being a member of the Islamic Jihad, and was being held under Israel’s practice of administrative detention, which allows it to imprison suspects without filing charges.

Security officials were increasingly concerned that Kamamji or Nafiyat could try to carry out an attack following the arrests of the other fugitives over the weekend.

“They have nothing to lose,” an unnamed senior official was quoted saying by the Walla news site.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai echoed those concerns while visiting a joint command center set up to help coordinate the search efforts on Saturday.

“We must maintain alertness… these are people in a situation of despair and are liable to do extreme things,” he said.

Shabtai also called to hold off on celebrating the arrests until the remaining fugitives are caught.

“We’re just getting started and we can celebrate in the end, after we have the sixth [prisoner],” Shabtai said.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai (left) with senior officers at a briefing after the capture of four of six escaped Palestinian security prisoners, September 11, 2021 (Israel Police screenshot)

Security forces were conducting searches near Kfar Yehoshua on Saturday afternoon, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Gilboa Prison.

Meanwhile, Palestinian media reports said Israeli forces conducted searches in the town of Zububa, northwest of Jenin, adjacent to the border fence between the West Bank and Israel.

There were no immediate reports of anyone detained in Kfar Yehoshua or the Palestinian town.

On Friday night, searches were also reportedly conducted in Muqeible, an
Arab Israeli town adjacent to the northern West Bank border.

Four of the six escapees, including notorious terror commander Zakaria Zubeidi, were caught by security forces on Friday night and early Saturday morning.

Yaqoub Qadiri and Mahmoud al-Arida, the latter reported to be the mastermind of the jailbreak, were arrested in the northern town of Nazareth on Friday night.

Police take Zakaria Zubeidi to a patrol car after he was captured in northern Israel, after escaping from prison with other security prisoners, on September 11, 2021. (Israel Police)

Al-Arida, considered a senior Islamic Jihad member, was jailed for life for terrorist activity, including attacks in which soldiers were killed. Qadiri, also an Islamic Jihad member, was also serving life terms for acts of terrorism including the murder of an Israeli in 2004.  Both men were reportedly involved in a 2014 attempt to break out of Gilboa.

Zubeidi and Mohammed al-Arida, the younger brother of the reported mastermind of the jailbreak, were recaptured by Israeli counter-terror police officers near the northern town of Shibli–Umm al-Ghanam at around 5 a.m. on Saturday.

Zubeidi, a notorious commander in Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terror group, was in prison while on trial for two dozen crimes, including attempted murder.

The younger al-Arida, also an Islamic Jihad member was arrested in 2002 on terror offenses and sentenced to life in prison.

The six Palestinian security prisoners who escaped from Gilboa prison on Monday, September 6, 2021. Clockwise from top left: Yaqoub Qadiri, Mohammad al-Arida, Mahmoud al-Arida, Iham Kamamji, Zakaria Zubeidi, and Munadil Nafiyat (Screenshot: Palestinian Prisoners’ Media Office)

For Palestinians, the fugitives have been widely regarded as “heroes” who succeeded in freeing themselves from multiple life sentences.

Violent protests broke out at a number of locations in the West Bank after the announcement of the first two arrests on Friday evening.

Israel Defense Forces geared up for further protests on Saturday, after Palestinian groups in the West Bank called for mass protests in solidarity with the re-arrested prisoners.

The six escaped from Gilboa Prison in the pre-dawn hours of Monday morning, making their way out through their cell’s drainage system and an empty space underneath the prison.

Police officers and prison guards inspect the scene of a prison escape outside the Gilboa prison in northern Israel, on Monday, September 6, 2021. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

Israeli forces have scrambled to find the inmates, all of them highly dangerous. In recent days, Israeli troops have arrested several of the fugitives’ family members, including five who were arrested in villages near the northern West Bank city of Jenin in the predawn hours of Friday morning, according to Palestinian media.

The escape exposed a series of failures at the prison, and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said on Thursday that he had decided to form a government commission to probe the incident.

Among the apparent lapses were failure to learn lessons from previous escape attempts and several operational blunders, including unmanned watchtowers and sleeping guards.

Aaron Boxerman and agencies contributed to this report.

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