Authorities have arrested five people believed to have links to three dangerous inmates who escaped from a Southern California jail last week, it was announced Wednesday as a manhunt continued with no sighting of the fugitives.
The arrests come as more than 250 law enforcement personnel are searching for Hossein Nayeri, 37, Jonathan Tieu, 20, and Bac Duong, 43, who cut through steel bars and rappelled from the roof to escape sometime Friday.
Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Sandra Hutchens said authorities were focusing on a Vietnamese gang active in the Westminster and Garden Grove neighborhoods, but wouldn’t say who was arrested or on what charges. Duong and Tieu are gang members, she said.
"Some of them knew these individuals, some of them are either on probation or have warrants," Hutchens said of the five detained.
More people are expected to be taken into custody Wednesday night and early Thursday, Hutchens said. Not all of those arrested are gang members, she said.
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The three inmates were last counted at the maximum security Orange County Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana at around 5 a.m. Friday, and they were missing when a second count was done at around 8 p.m., officials said.
"We certainly believe at this point that there was outside help," Hutchens said.
Investigators are looking at whether there was inside help as well. The tools used in the escape produced clean cuts — "not something we think could have occurred with a jail-made shank," she said. The tools have not been found.
"The question is: how do you get cutting tools into the jail?" Hutchens said.
Nayeri — who is charged with torturing a licensed marijuana dealer with a blowtorch and slicing off his penis in 2012 — successfully fled to Iran and lived there for months before the FBI arrested him in Prague in 2013. Nayeri had been at the jail since 2014.
"He was most probably the mastermind behind this," Hutchens said.
Tieu had been at the jail since October 2013 on charges of murder, attempted murder and street terrorism, officials said.
Duong had been at the jail since December on charges of attempted murder, burglary and other charges.
Nayeri and Tieu are U.S. citizens, Hutchens said.
Duong is a Vietnamese national and was ordered to be deported due to his criminal history — but Vietnam refused to take him because Duong lived in the U.S. for years before an agreement between the nations allowing deportations took effect.
A reward of $200,000 has been offered for information leading to the capture of the three men.
Andrew Blankstein is an investigative reporter for NBC News. He covers the Western United States, specializing in crime, courts and homeland security.