Israeli security forces launched a manhunt on Monday for six Palestinian prisoners who escaped from one of the country's highest-security prisons through a tunnel they dug for nearly a decade.
According to authorities, the prisoners escaped via a shaft beneath the bathroom floor and then sneaked through the underground passages in the prison's foundation.
Prison Authorities Alerted by Nearby Farmers
Local farmers alerted authorities at Gilboa Prison, which is located in northern Israel, about "suspicious figures" in nearby agricultural fields. When prison staff carried out a headcount, they found six inmates were missing.
The Palestinians are believed to have made their way out of the cell that they shared by digging a hole in the floor of their bathroom. According to The Jerusalem Post they had used a rusty spoon that they hid behind a poster. The inmates are believed to have moved through the space to reach the prison's outer wall, then dug a tunnel that emerged in the middle of a dirt road just outside.
Images circulating on social media appear to show an opening in the floor of the prison cells, leading up to a dirt road outside the prison. It is not yet known since when the prisoners were digging the tunnel but Al Jazeera journalist Rania Zabaneh says it was "dug over several years."
There's also video footage of prison officials investigating the hole in the floor of the prisoners' cell.
It is believed the prisoners had been in contact with people outside the prison using a smuggled mobile phone and that they had been picked up in a car.
Prison Blueprints Shared on Ministry of Architecture Website
As pointed out by Israeli journalist Josh Breiner, the blueprints of the prison's engineering were published on the website of the Ministry of Architecture that designed the building. However, it is not yet clear whether the prisoners utilized the drawings to facilitate their escape.
Who were the Israeli Prisoners?
The men on the run range in age from 26 to 49 years old, the Palestinian Prisoners Society said. At least four had been serving life sentences, with one of them detained since 1996. The six fugitives include Zakaria Zubeidi, a former commander of the Palestinian militant group Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade in the West Bank city of Jenin, as well as five members of Islamic Jihad.
Four of the Islamic Jihad members were serving life sentences after being convicted of planning or carrying out attacks that killed Israelis, while the fifth had been held without charge for two years under a so-called administrative detention order, according to Israeli media.
Israeli border police and army troops involved in the manhunt have reportedly set up roadblocks to stop the men reaching the nearby occupied West Bank or Jordan, which is about 14km (nine miles) to the east of Gilboa prison.