Israel’s minister of public security said he wanted to open an inquiry into the failures that led to six fugitives escaping. All of them were charged with terrorist activity and four of them had been sentenced to life in prison.
In Israel, the search for the six Palestinian prisoners, continues.
The fugitives escaped on Monday morning from the Gilboa prison in the north of the country, and the security forces are now at a loss as to where they are.
Tough to Find
Amir Makhoul, an Arab Israeli, who served nine years at the Gilboa prison on charges of espionage for Lebanon’s Hezbollah and who knew some of the fugitives, says it will probably be tough to find them.
“They planned all of this to be free and to live peacefully somewhere. I believe they will now do everything they can to disappear, so that even their families will not know where they are.”
Three of those fugitives had already tried to escape. In 2014, they were caught digging a tunnel but were stopped at the last minute. But Makhoul says they never lost hope to fulfill their dream. Seven years after their first attempt, it became a reality.
Dreamt to Be Free
While the investigation is still underway and local authorities try to understand how the escape became possible, police believe it was Mahmoud Abdallah Al Arada, who served as the head of prisoners at the Gilboa, who orchestrated and took command of the operation.
The 46-year-old belongs to the radical Islamic Jihad organisation that takes a hard line on Israel. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1996 for extensive terrorist activity that included the murder of several Israelis.
Makhoul, who met Al Arada a number of times inside the prison walls, says he was not surprised that it was he who carried out the operation. Neither was he astonished to learn that it was the Islamic Jihad that stood behind the escape.
“They are an extremely organised movement. And they also know how to bite their tongue. Very silent so it didn’t come to me as a shock.”
Al Arada himself is described as “a very kind man,” who used to engage in sports and various political activities within the prison. And just like the rest of the organisation he belongs to, he too is secretive.
“You could never tell, whether the man was planning something. We spoke many times, but he never shared any secrets with me. This is only natural because everybody knows that Israel’s security agencies are following us, so any secret shared would be at risk of reaching their ears.”
According to Makhoul, Al Arada was extremely frustrated and disappointed that his name was not included in the 2011 prisoners swap, when Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian inmates, who have been charged with terrorism, in exchange for its soldier Gilad Shalit that was captured by Hamas in 2006.
“He was sentenced to life in prison, without any hope that he would ever be released. But he always dreamt of being outside. He believed in the impossible, and this time around he made it happen”.
Prison is Like a Safe
Israeli authorities are still wondering how the escape was possible. Known for its tough regulations and strict rules, the Gilboa that houses high-security prisoners is often referred to as “safe” and is widely regarded as the most secure prison in Israel.
“The majority of inmates at Gilboa believe that an escape from this prison is impossible. It is like a box. Over there, you don’t know where the South or the North is. It is tough to move there, and everything is designed in such a way that a jailbreak is beyond reach”.
But that wasn’t the case with Al Arada and his team. Security forces now suspect that the six fugitives received assistance not only from the outside but also from inside the prison, and the coming days are expected to see a number of key figures, including wardens and officers, giving their testimony.
Makhoul doubts whether the six cooperated with anyone inside the prison, primarily because “wardens are fearful of the outcomes of such cooperation”. But he doesn’t deny the possibility that prison staff were helping them unconsciously, on matters that were not directly linked to the operation.
Israel’s Minister of Public Security Omer Bar Lev stated on Thursday that he decided to launch an outside inquiry into the case in a bid to understand the failures that led to the escape.
Meanwhile, the police and the IDF are stepping up their efforts to find the six fugitives. But as time passes by, it seems that their chances of finding them are becoming increasingly slim.