TEL AVIV (Aug. 29)
Police on Monday captured without a shot Herzl Avitan, the armed murderer who escaped from prison Saturday afternoon.
A special police unit apprehended Avitan, described as most dangerous, 40 hours after he escaped from Beersheba prison, where he is serving two life sentences for separate murders. He was found in Hod Hasharon, near Tel Aviv, after taking a family hostage.
Israelis were celebrating his capture.
The police also detained for 10 days a prison officer and a guard on suspicion of having facilitated his escape.
A Tel Aviv magistrate ordered Yosef Kidar, deputy security officer at the prison, and Avi Kahil, a prison guard, held in custody on suspicion that at least one of them helped provide Avitan with the pistol with which he threatened his prison hostages, among them Kahil.
Evidence that the two men helped Avitan escape is presently circumstantial, albeit convincing. Among the factors leading to suspicions against them is the high standard of living both men enjoy, greater than warranted by their prison authority salaries.
Avitan reportedly feigned feeling ill during his outdoor recreation period. An officer accompanied him back to his cell while a paramedic was called. The two men were then joined by Kahil. Avitan then allegedly leapt at the men, brandishing a pistol reportedly slipped to him earlier by a prison attendant.
Avitan bound the men with rags reportedly taken from his cell, and had the paramedic bandage him and splash him with iodine to make him appear injured.
He then ordered Kahil to announce on his walkie-talkie that he should be rushed to the hospital in a van. Avitan reportedly ordered the others from the van and sped away.
PRISON COMMISSIONER RECALLED
During the massive hunt for Avitan, Police Minister Haim Bar-Lev recalled Prison Commissioner Shaul Levy from a study mission in the United States. Levy said earlier Monday that if there were any proof of a failure on his part, he would accept the consequences and resign.
Asked if he would “draw conclusions” from Avitan’s prison break about failures in the prison service, Bar-Lev said, “This is not Japan, where a Cabinet minister commits suicide whenever there is a plane crash.”
However, all officials have promised a thorough investigation of the escape, as well as prison conditions. Police inspector Uzi Berger, who headed the special police unit that searched for and captured Avitan, said the police intelligence unit had been aware of Avitan’s movements throughout most of the period of his break.
Police had reportedly operated on orders to capture Avitan without shooting.
Many of the details of the work of the special unit, which is composed of police intelligence experts, the criminal investigation department and the police anti-terrorist squad, have yet to be disclosed.
According to Berger, Avitan drove to a house in Beersheba, where he threatened with his pistol and took hostage a family of four, including a husband, wife and two children.
He spent 24 hours there, during which he changed his clothes, dyed his hair and made phone calls to the army radio station. He donned a yarmulke and a long-sleeved sweater to hide his identifying tatoo. He warned the family not to divulge his presence under penalty of harm.
HOSTAGE FAMILY FREED
At noon Sunday, Avitan took the father and son to a taxi in which they rode toward central Israel, where he abandoned the taxi and warned the hostages, and taxi driver, not to divulge his whereabouts.
On foot, Avitan made it to a safehouse prepared for him in Hod Hasharon. The police apparently were aware of the hiding place and detained those who set it up, keeping the number of people present there to a minimum for the recapture operation.
At 2:30 p.m., the police squad lobbed massive bursts of tear gas into the house, and police in gas masks burst in and captured Avitan, who fainted from the gas. “His pistol was next to him, unfired. And we didn’t fire a shot-as we had been ordered,” Berger said.
The capture operation took less than five minutes.
Avitan has been serving two life sentences for the murder of Roni Nitzan, the warden of the Ramla detention center, as well as the murder of a guard during an armed robbery at the Keren Or jewelry factory in Ramat Gan.
He also has been awaiting a verdict on charges that he brutally murdered fellow prisoner Haim Shoshan by stabbing him hundreds of times with knives held in both hands.
Avitan escaped previously to France, but was extradited back to Israel to stand retrial.