RABAT, (Reuters) – A radical Islamist who tunnelled out of jail in Morocco to avoid serving a 20-year sentence has been tracked down and re-arrested, but eight accomplices are still on the run, the government said on Thursday.
Police sources named the man as Mohamed Chetbi, one of nine Islamists who fled Kenitra top-security prison, 40 kilometres north-east of the capital Rabat, in the early hours of April 7, official news agency MAP reported.
The nine were jailed for their links to suicide bombings in Morocco’s economic capital Casablanca in May 2003 that targeted Western and Jewish interests and killed 45 people.
Police were questioning two men who gave Chetbi refuge for clues to the location of his eight companions, MAP said.
The men escaped by digging a tunnel more than 20 metres long under their cells that emerged within the grounds of the prison director’s home, local media and security experts have said.
Two of the men were on death row, four faced life in prison and the rest were serving 20-year jail terms. A prisoner advocacy group said the escape coincided with a one-day hunger strike by 1,000 Islamist prisoners at several Moroccan jails.
The break-out shone a spotlight on Morocco’s increasingly crowded prisons, where the low salaries of prison officers leave the system open to corruption.
Soon afterwards the government announced it would reinforce prison security and recruit thousands of extra prison officers.