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    Three of five escaped criminals have been recaptured

    Turnhout prison last night © Belga

    Three of the five men who escaped from Turnhout prison on Thursday evening have been recaptured, police said. One of those who escaped is the brother of a previous escapee from the prison.

    The method used for the escape remains unclear, prison authorities told De Standaard. The popular theory is that they somehow climbed over the prison wall, which is five metres high. “In theory there’s one spot where you could climb onto a roof and from there over the wall, but just for that reason heavy-duty barbed wire has been put in place, which is also electrified. The wall itself is electrified. It’s out of the question that the escaped that way.”

    Turnhout prison currently houses 290 men, slightly more than its intended capacity of 270. The prisoners range from murderers and drugs dealers to fraudsters.

    One of the escapees is said to be 26-year-old Oualid Sekkaki, whose brother Ashraf is considered to be the country’s most notorious prison break expert. He also escaped from Turnhout prison in 2003, before committing the most audacious escape from Bruges prison a decade ago, with the help of an accomplice and a hijacked helicopter to pick him up from the exercise yard.

    Ashraf is now in prison in Morocco, where Oualid is expected soon to join him; he was detained in Turnhout prison awaiting his transfer to Morocco on charges relating to a large-scale drugs operation.

    The other prisoners have not been named, and it remains unclear who the three are who have been recaptured.

    In any case, none of the five faces any charges or additional prison time for the attempt: escaping from prison is in itself not against the law, although escaped prisoners can always be charged if they commit other offences while at large, such as car theft or burglary.

    Police meanwhile will try to figure out how the escape occurred, and whether the men had help from outsiders – which by contrast is against the law. Members of the public are invited to provide any information on sightings, but warned not to intervene personally. Police have detailed search dogs and a helicopter in the hunt for the two men remaining free. So far 120 tips have come from members of the public, one of whom reports being stopped on the road and asked the way to the Netherlands. The man in question appeared to be injured in some way. No further details are available for the time being.

    Alan Hope
    The Brussels Times