Lebanon News

Officers and guards held over Roumieh escape

Roumieh Prison (Archive)

BEIRUT: Officers and guards at Lebanon’s largest prison were arrested Sunday after the escape of five inmates, as the manhunt for four men who remain at large gathered pace.

Government commissioner to the Military Court, Judge Saqr Saqr, ordered the detention of two officers and nine guards at the notorious Roumieh prison complex, northeast of Beirut, for “negligence and failure to carry out their duties,” a judicial source told The Daily Star.

The Lebanese Army announced late Saturday it had apprehended Midhat Hasan Khalil, a Jordanian national, in north Lebanon following a widespread search backed by army helicopters.

All five escaped men are suspected members of Muslim militant groups, according to information given to The Daily Star.

“Four of the prisoners are members of Fatah al-Islam and one, a Kuwaiti, is a member of Al-Qaeda,” the judicial source said, adding that the four members of Fatah al-Islam had fought against the Lebanese Army during the 2007 conflict at the northern Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp.

The four men at large were named by Internal Security Forces as Abduall Saadeddine al-Shukri, a Syrian national born in 1984; Abdel Aziz Ahmad al-Masri, of Syrian origin born in 1985; Mohammad Abdel-Nasser Abdel-Dusri, a Kuwaiti born in 1973; and Abdel Nasser Said Singer, a Lebanese born 1980. There was initially confusion as to the nationalities of Khalil and Dusri, although the army confirmed their origins later Saturday.

An ISF statement added that a sixth prisoner, Walim Issam Lababidi, a Lebanese born in 1980, was apprehended while trying to escape with other inmates.

According to an army statement, the five inmates used bed sheets knotted together to climb down the side of a building, before sawing through an interior fence to mingle with relatives of prisoners who were visiting at the time. They had changed into civilian clothes and left unobserved. It appeared that the men were not asked for identification documents on exiting the facility, a fact that will raise questions about security in Lebanon’s largest prison.

The ISF released a communiqué containing the names of escapees, as well as file photographs of the men, and urged the public to contact emergency services if they received any information on the whereabouts of the four.

“The caller’s name will remain confidential in accordance with the law,” the communiqué said. ISF Chief Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi was unavailable for comment Sunday.

Roumieh has seen several escape attempts in recent years. In November 2010, two suspected members of Fatah al-Islam jumped over the prison’s retaining wall. One was severely injured, but the second man evaded security forces for several hours before eventually being apprehended.

In 2009, eight Fatah al-Islam members attempted an elaborate escape from Roumieh by sawing off the bars of their cell window. Only one managed to get out of the complex and was found by the army after a day.

The prison, which holds more than 3,700 inmates but was originally designed to hold roughly a third of that number, has been beset by security lapses in 2011. Prisoner unrest at what they claimed to be appalling living conditions and chronic overcrowding came to a head in April, when four inmates died as a result of sustained rioting that was quashed by armed policemen.

Fatah al-Islam is accused of being behind twin bus bombings in a north Beirut suburb that killed three and wounded close to 20 in 2007 as well as bomb attacks against UNIFIL.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 15, 2011, on page 1.

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