Israeli Police Suspect Recaptured Palestinian Prisoners Planned Serious Act of Terror

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The area where the prisoners were caught near Nazareth, early Saturday.
The area where the prisoners were caught near Nazareth, early Saturday.Credit: Gil Eliyahu

Police suspect that four recaptured Palestinian fugitives planned a serious act of terror, a crime that carries a sentence of up to 15 years.

On top of charging them with escaping from prison, they may also be indicted for aiding and abetting others to escape from lawful custody, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years, as well as membership of terror organizations. 

>> Two Palestinian fugitives are still at large. These are the questions troubling Israeli security forces

The four prisoners – Zakaria Zubeidi, Mohammed Aradeh, Mahmoud Aradeh, and Yakub Kadari – were at the Nazareth Magistrate's Court on Saturday evening for a remand hearing behind closed doors, meaning no media was allowed to enter the courtroom.

The search continues for the two remaining prisoners, and according to Palestinian reports, searches are being conducted in the vicinity of Jenin. 

At the hearing, the Shin Bet security service asked the court to extend the four prisoners' custody by 13 days; since they were apprehended on Friday and Saturday, they have been in Shin Bet custody. 

The four were not allowed to meet with their lawyers ahead of the remand hearing who were also barred from entering the hearing, which prompted defense counsel to submit an appeal to the Nazareth's District Court on Saturday. The preliminary hearing on the appeal is scheduled to take place on Sunday morning.   

Speaking on behalf of defense counsel on Saturday night, Adv. Avidgor Feldman conveyed their objections to the timeframe requested by the state, citing their "primary concern" for the prisoners' health condition. He also mentioned that they had advised the prisoners to remain silent and expressed their hope that the court would convey that message to their clients. 

Feldman objected to the characterization of the prisoners' act as a security offense, and heavily implied that the state included such a charge in the indictment so as to bar them from meeting with their counsel, because "the only thing that can forbid one from meeting with another is a security offense."    

The four fugitives who were captured over the weekend were apprehended in two separate arrests: two were caught in Umm al-Ghanam on Saturday after the other two were caught in Nazareth late Friday night.  

Meanwhile, the spokesman for Hamas' military wing, Abu Obeida, said Saturday that the group will demand that the prisoners who escaped be included in any future prisoner-swap deal with Israel, adding that the organization will not permit Israeli security forces to operate in Jenin. 

Former Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade leader Zakaria Zubeidi and Mohammed Aradeh were captured by police officers and Shin Bet agents in the village of Umm al-Ghanam in north Israel on Saturday.

Their arrest came just hours after security forces apprehended two of the fugitives, Islamic Jihad members Mahmoud Aradeh and Yakub Kadari, in Nazareth late Friday night after civilians spotted two suspicious figures and reported them to the police. The two were taken for questioning by the Shin Bet security services. They did not resist arrest. 

Police and security forces consider the capture of the four escaped prisoners to be a significant achievement. They believe that capturing the four inmates will lead to new intelligence on the two inmates who remain at large, and will deal a blow to Palestinian morale, which has been high in the wake of the prison break

According to a defense official, the arrest of Zubeidi and Aradeh in umm al-Ghanam came after a local resident who rode by on an all-terrain vehicle said he spotted two suspicious figures in the area and reported the incident at about 7 P.M. Friday night. Zubeidi asked the resident for food, he added.

Following the report, IDF soldiers arrived at the scene, and at about 1 A.M. found the fugitives' footprints and began to follow them. They called in the police counter-terror unit, and at around 4:30 A.M. found Aradeh in the wagon of a nearby truck. Shortly after, they found Zubeidi in a nearby olive grove. According to a police source, Zubeidi resisted arrest, but was quickly restrained. 

Umm al-Ghanam residents said that security forces had been searching the village since the middle of the night, and that locals remained in their homes during that time. One resident, identified as Mohammed, said: "I don't believe that the escapees were helped, and I also don't believe that people tried to shelter them. Our village is very quiet." 

The jailbreak from Gilboa Prison occurred early Monday morning when the six escaped through a tunnel they dug from within their cell, apparently over the last six months. All the escaped convicts – five members of Islamic Jihad and one Fatah member – are convicted or charged with planning or carrying out terror attacks against Israelis, including shootings, bombings and kidnappings. 

Even though the prison break was well planned, defense officials said, the inmates split into groups of two afterwards, and improvised their next steps in an attempt to evade the security forces. Of the last two, one is believed to be hiding in the Galilee region of northern Israel, while the other is believed to have successfully crossed into the West Bank.  

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