Israeli Minister Orders Probe Into How Assassin Fled Prison Guards

Probe to focus on violations committed by Yaron Sankar during escape from hospital, not on three guards responsible for him.

A handcuffed Yaron Sanker, in the center of the photo, is being led into court during his trial in 2006.
Moti Kimche

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has appointed the deputy head of the Israel Prison Service to investigate how a convicted assassin escaped while receiving care in a central Israel hospital on Sunday.

Yaron Sankar escaped from his guards while hospitalized at Assaf Harofeh Hospital, Tzrifin. After an intense manhunt, Sankar – who is serving two life sentences for murder – was nabbed early Monday morning in Be’er Sheva.

The Central District’s police force will focus on the violations Sankar committed during the course of his escape on Sunday night, and less on the responsibility of the three prison guards who were guarding him at the hospital. That area will be handled by the committee to be headed by IPS Deputy Commissioner Eli Gavison.

At this point, the guards, medical staff and police investigators are all giving different versions of the guards’ behavior at the time of the escape. According to the guards, one of them was in Sankar’s room but fell asleep; Sankar exploited the moment and fled, they claimed. But Sankar insists there was no guard in the room at all when he escaped.

Police and medical staff believe the guard who had been in Sankar’s room left to smoke a cigarette, and was joined by the guard who had been standing outside the room.

Sankar was hospitalized three weeks ago following a hunger strike that he’d launched to reinforce his demands to be declared a state’s witness for contributing to the solving of several crimes. On Sunday night, although he was meant to be watched by the three guards – one in his room, one outside the door, one in the hallway – Sankar was seemingly left alone. Although he was handcuffed, he managed to release one hand and escaped through a hospital window, taking the bag of one of the guards.

At around 11 P.M., wearing a coat that hid his hospital gown, he got into a taxi and asked to be taken to Be’er Sheva. The driver asked for payment up front and, since Sankar didn’t have the money, the driver let him out in the center of Rishon Letzion. He then hailed another taxi, which began the trip to Be’er Sheva.

However, Sankar began to fear that the driver might recognize him, since reports of his escape were being broadcast; he asked to be dropped off at Kiryat Gat bus station, paying the driver with money he found in the guard’s bag. Sankar then got on a bus to Be’er Sheva, but was arrested at 1:30 A.M. on Monday morning at Be’er Sheva bus station by a security guard who recognized him.

Police search for an escaped convict, Yaron Sankar, in Rishon Letzion on Sunday night. He was later recaptured in Be'er Sheva.
Ilan Assayag

Upon being captured, he told police that when he realized he had a chance to escape, he decided to try to get to Dimona to visit his father’s grave. The judges and prosecutors involved in Sankar’s conviction had been warned to take precautions as soon as his escape became known.

Before his arrest, Sankar had been a hired gun for the Ohana crime organization in Kfar Sava. In 2003, he shot and killed Haim Shabi and Tomer Shabbat in a Hod Hasharon barbershop. The Ohana brothers had suspected Shabi of being involved in their father’s murder, but Sankar originally misidentified Shabbat, a barber, as the target. Sankar also tried to murder Shimon Zrihan, a known criminal.

After being arrested trying to leave the country in 2004, Sankar implicated the Ohana brothers in several other crimes. He also helped solve the 2003 murder of Shaked Shalhov in Ashkelon, after he led police to the killers. Sankar was convicted of two murders, armed robbery, attempted murder and aggravated assault. In 2006, he was sentenced to two consecutive life terms. The court did not sentence him for other charges because of the help he had given police.