Yaniv (Nivi) Zaguri, a convicted felon who, according to Israel Police, heads a criminal organization in the Beer Sheva and Negev area, collaborated with Bedouins living near Eshel Prison in Be’er Sheva in digging a tunnel into the prison and smuggling out Zaguri’s people, Kan 11 News reported Wednesday night, based on police intelligence.
For about a decade, Zaguri was the number one target of the Negev police, until he was convicted in 2009 and served seven years in prison based on the testimony of Tal Kurkos, a criminal who turned state witness. After his release in 2016, Zaguri left Israel until he was deported from China to Israel and prosecuted on new charges. In 2018 he was arrested for the duration of the proceedings against him, and indicted for the murder of Tal Kurkos and two others.
The initial information about the attempt to dig a tunnel under Eshel Prison reached the Israel Prisons Authority more than two years ago, and the service involved other security agencies, including the Shin Bet, fearing that the operation was part of a terrorist plot. But later intelligence revealed that the excavation initiative was a collaboration between the Zaguri crime organization and a group of Bedouin criminals.
בדואים בשירות ארגון הפשע: מידע מודיעיני של שב”ס העלה שהארגון של ניבי זגורי ניסה להבריח עבריינים מכלא אשל בעזרת עבריינים בדואים שהיו אמורים לחפור מנהרה מהמאהל שלהם לתוך בית הסוהר | הפרסום של @moyshis ב-#חדשותהערב pic.twitter.com/woBHOFDxSH
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) February 15, 2023
For several months, a covert investigation was conducted in the area of the prison to locate the excavation. At one point, the IPS began digging right outside the prison walls to try and locate the tunnel.
Two soldiers of the Zaguri crime organization were locked up in Eshel Prison at the time, and security investigators were convinced the tunnel was intended to free them. Persistent intelligence suggested the collaboration between the Zaguri group and the Bedouin – especially since a Bedouin encampment is located only a few hundred yards from the prison walls. Eventually, police discovered a tunnel not far from the prison where Bedouins grew illegal cannabis.
In the end, the investigators gave up, having failed to locate a tunnel leading under the prison. The IPS became more aware of the possibility of tunnels being dug into high-security prisons – but still failed to detect the escape of six PA Arab security prisoners from Gilboa Prison near Afula up north.