Search operation underway after Lebanon prison break

Search operation underway after Lebanon prison break
Lebanon’s security forces deploy on a street with access to a detention center under the Adlieh (Palace of Justice) Bridge in Beirut following Sunday’s dawn prison break. (AFP)
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Updated 08 August 2022

Search operation underway after Lebanon prison break

Search operation underway after Lebanon prison break
  • Sunday’s escape ‘reflects magnitude of problems,’ says parliamentary committee chief
  • Police official warns that country’s jails are three times over capacity

BEIRUT: A group of prisoners escaped from a prison in Beirut on Sunday, with the Lebanese Internal Security Forces’ Investigation Unit subsequently arresting four out of 31 escapees a day later.

“Work is underway to arrest the remaining detainees who escaped from Beirut’s prison,” the directorate general of the Internal Security Forces said.

The group of escaped prisoners includes Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian and other nationals, he added.

A security source told Arab News that the detainees “managed to saw off the bars of one of the cell’s windows overlooking the street using a screw.”

The prison is located under a bridge close to the Justice Palace in Beirut and is subject to the authority of Lebanon’s prison administration, but was previously controlled by the General Security Service.

A huge organized escape operation took place in the Baabda jail on Nov. 21, 2021, during which five detainees died in a car accident while escaping, and others were detained.

Riots are a frequent event in Lebanese jails, with prisoners demanding better living conditions.

MP Michel Moussa, head of the Parliamentary Committee for Human Rights, questioned how 31 detainees could escape a facility that is presumably guarded and secured.

He told Arab News: “We have not received any answer to this question yet because the investigations are still ongoing.”

The MP added: “We have already asked for this so-called Adlieh prison built a few years ago to be shut down, as it does not provide the bare minimum on all levels. We were promised several times that it will be shut down, but this did not happen.

“What’s certain is that the prison does not meet any human-friendly criteria.

“Apparently, security bodies are using it again as a jail for the detainees of Beirut’s Justice Palace in light of prison overcrowding.”

Moussa added that Sunday’s escape reflected the magnitude of economic, security and judicial issues in Lebanon.

In response to increasing numbers of people being detained without trial, the MP demanded an end to the practice, adding that courts should be reactivated, and that the circumstances in Lebanon do not justify delays.

More than 80 percent of Lebanon’s population lives below the poverty line due to the acute economic crisis in the country.

As salaries dwindle, the economic crisis has led to a significant number of soldiers and security personnel fleeing from service or resigning to look for other jobs, or even migrate.

Military and security higher-ups are turning a blind eye to the fact that many soldiers and security officers are working second jobs.

Col. Joseph Moussallem, head of the Internal Security Forces’ Public Relations Division, told Arab News that the economic circumstances of police officers “do not affect their line of duty.”

He said that an increased number of arrests shows that crime continues to be under control in Lebanon, but admitted that the reform process had declined in prisons.

According to Internal Security Forces data, many prisoners have long criminal records and have been handed repeat prison sentences.

He added that prison overcrowding was causing problems, although “we are doing whatever it takes to carry out reforms and civil organizations are trying to help.”

Moussallem said that state and private property thefts were among the most frequent offenses taking place in the country.

On Sunday, residents in Hermel in Bekaa protested outside a store in the city following an armed robbery and shooting.

Residents blocked a road and carried signs that said: “Enforce security. Do not cover for perpetrators. Prosecute them and refer them to courts so they can receive the appropriate punishment.”

Sheikh Ali Taha, the mufti of Hermel, said: “What’s happening in the region is a weird phenomenon.”

He called on officials to urgently intervene and reduce crime in order to avoid the threat of vigilante justice.

In the Lebanese northern region of Koura, the Association of Olive Farmers denounced “the theft of seasonal crops in the region.”

In a statement, the association said that “every morning, a group of professional thieves pick our unripe crops and steal iron barrels, electric wires, iron fences and beehives. We can no longer stand this.”

Col. Moussallem estimated the total number of prisoners and detainees in the country to be about “9,000 individuals,” adding that Lebanon’s prisons were designed to only house about 3,000 people at maximum capacity.

He said that thefts and other offenses had decreased by 6.5 percent this year compared to last year.