Defense Officials Warn: 2 Terrorists Still at Large ‘May Have Nothing to Lose’

YERUSHALAYIM -
Outside the court room where Zakaria Zubeidi, Mohammed Aradeh, Mahmoud Aradeh and Yakub Kadari were brought for a court hearing behind closed doors at the Nazareth Court, on Motzoei Shabbos. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The six Palestinian fugitives who escaped a high-security Israeli prison last week received no help while on the run, Israeli security forces said in statements on Motzoei Shabbos.

Five days into a national manhunt for six Palestinian security prisoners who escaped from a jail in northern Israel, police captured two of the fugitives – Yaqoub Mahmoud Qadri and Mohammed Qassem al-Arida – in Nazareth Friday night. Hours later, two others – notorious terror commander Zakaria Zubeidi and Mohammed al-Arida – were apprehended in the nearby town of Shibli–Umm al-Ghanam. In both cases, Arab Israelis who encountered the fugitives reported them to authorities, aiding in their capture.

A video circulating on social media showed Israeli police shackling one of the prisoners, Qadri, into the backseat of a police vehicle and asking him for his name. The man, wearing jeans and a green T-shirt, calmly identifies himself as Qadri and answers “yes” when asked whether he is one of the escapees. Qadri was serving two life sentences for attempted murder and bomb planting.

“Due to the cooperation between all security organizations and the very broad deployment of police and Border Police forces on the ground, we were able to apprehend four of the six terrorists, and the manhunt is ongoing,” said Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai, who cautioned it was still too early to celebrate the end of one of the more embarrassing chapters in Israel’s security history.

Shabtai called on civilians to remain vigilant and for local communities to remain on guard.

The still-at-large terrorists are “desperate individuals, and we must be aware of any suspicious movements in the area,” the police chief continued.

Defense officials speculated that it was increasingly likely that the two remaining escapees – Iham Kamamji and Munadil Nafiyat, both of whom are members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group – had split up. One of the two may still be in Israel, while the other could have crossed into Yehudah and Shomron, defense officials said.

Palestinian terrorist Mohammad al-Arda sits in court before his remand and after he was recaptured, following his escape from Gilboa prison, in Nazareth, Motzoei Shabbbos. (Reuters/Ammar Awad)

Security officials were increasingly concerned that Kamamji or Nafiyat could try to carry out a terror 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.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi took part in a situational assessment on Motzoei Shabbos along with other security officials regarding the ongoing manhunt.

“The activity has been determined and consistent, and the key to success is smooth and quiet cooperation between all those involved,” Bennett said, adding that “rapid information sharing and precise division of tasks between security forces should continue, allowing maximum coverage of the area.”

Shabtai praised the civilians who he said helped lead to the terrorists’ capture. “I call on civilians, whose conduct to this point has been commendable, to continue your everyday lives but also be on alert for anything suspicious. We will respond quickly to any emergency call and any report to detain the terrorists who are still on the run,” he said.

Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev also praised Israel’s Arab citizens, who he said helped lead to the capture of the fugitives by reporting them to the police.

“Alongside the compliments to the Israel Police and security forces for their actions thus far, and without ignoring the fact that the mission is still not completed – I would like to thank the Arab citizens of Israel who aided in the apprehension of the terrorists,” Bar-Lev said.

“For four days the fugitives wandered, believing they’d find shelter and refuge among Arab Israelis – but they were mistaken. Wherever they turned for help and were identified, Arab citizens turned them away and called the police,” added Bar-Lev.

After interrogating the four recaptured terrorists, police and Shin Bet investigators concluded they had no accomplices on the outside, or assistance from within Gilboa Prison, Channel 12 reported. The report said the escaped prisoners may have received minor assistance from passersby, such as offers of rides or clothing, none of which was premeditated.

The four men were brought to a Northern District Court in Nazareth on Motzoei Shabbos for their first hearing following their capture. Prosecutors accused them of having planned to conduct a major terror attack following their escape, a crime with a possible sentence of 15 additional years in prison.

The four captured fugitives will likely be kept in solitary confinement following their capture. Their remand was extended by nine days.

Meanwhile, terrorist prisoners from the Fatah organization said they would launch a hunger strike due to the punitive measures imposed on them by the Israel Prison Service.

In a letter to the Palestinian Authority, they said all the prisoners had agreed to go on a hunger strike starting this Friday.

Shortly after the arrest of Qadri and Mohammed Arida, thousands of Palestinians violently protested across Yehudah and Shomron and clashed with IDF troops throughout the day. A rocket was also launched from the Gaza Strip and was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. The IDF responded with an airstrike against a Hamas military infrastructure.

For the Palestinians, the fugitives terrorists are “heroes” who succeeded in freeing themselves from multiple life sentences. Fighting against Israel and taking part in attacks against the Israeli military or even civilians is a source of pride for many.

Hamas Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that “the arrest of the heroic prisoners is another round in the open and ongoing battle with the occupation. What happened strengthens the Palestinian people to continue the struggle against the occupation and support of prisoners.”

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad has threatened retaliation if any harm came to its operatives jailed in Israel or the fugitives.

As soon as the news about the capture of the two fugitives was confirmed Friday, a flurry of bitter posts expressing disappointment and shock filled Palestinian social media.

The Gilboa Prison break is one of the worst jailbreaks in Israel’s history. The initial investigation has already exposed major flaws in the Israel Prison Service and set off days of angry finger-pointing and calls for a commission of inquiry.