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Hijacked helicopter overflies Brussels prisons

St-Gilles prison in Brussels. © Belga

A helicopter hijacked by three men at Deurne in Antwerp took off and flew over Brussels’ two prisons yesterday, according to a spokesperson for the prisons administration.

According to spokesperson Kathleen Van De Vijver, the helicopter hovered over the prisons, which are adjacent to each other, and flew off without landing.

We have counted the inmates in all the prisons and none is missing,” she said. “All activities within the prisons have been suspended.”

The pilot had been ordered at gunpoint to head for Brussels, a spokesperson for the Antwerp prosecutor’s office said.

When the police helicopter arrived, the aircraft flew off and landed at Hélécine, in Walloon Brabant, where the hijackers fled. The pilot then flew to Melsbroek air base to land there.”

A Daring Escape

The incident is a reminder of what must be one of the country’s most daring prison breaks ever.

In July 2009, another hijacked helicopter touched down in the exercise yard at Bruges prison reserved for long-term male prisoners.

The helicopter had been chartered by a man and woman in Diksmuide for a tourist overflight of Bruges, then hijacked at gunpoint once in the air.

The pilot set down inside the exercise yard, and one of the hijackers was dropped off, police presume because the helicopter would otherwise have been too heavy.

It then picked up the three escapees and took off. The gang later car-jacked a Mercedes at Aalter and the woman driver forced to take them to Melle near Ghent, where she was released.

One of the three who escaped was the notorious escaper Ashraf Sekkaki, then aged 25, a habitual criminal who had hardly been out of jail since his first adult conviction at the age of 16.

Sekkaki, who has a record of hijackings and tiger kidnappings (where bank employees or their families are held hostage while the bank is cleaned out) had recently been transferred from the high-security wing of the prison, which is the only yard fitted with steel cables meant to make helicopter escapes impossible.

His younger brother Oualid was one of four men who escaped from Turnhout prison in December last year. Unlike the other three, who were recaptured quickly, Oualid Sekkaki spent nine months on the run before he was caught and returned to prison.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times