BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Twelve Roumieh guards face probe after prison break

Lebanese soldiers arrive at the Roumieh prison, Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: A government probe into a dramatic escape from Roumieh prison of three inmates, one of whom remains at large, will investigate 12 guards who may have helped the prisoners flee, a judicial source told The Daily Star.

Security forces Monday launched a manhunt for one of the inmates after two others he broke out with were captured, security sources said.

Security forces are in pursuit of a 23-year-old Syrian national identified as Muhannad Abdel-Rahman. Authorities caught two Lebanese inmates, Mohammad al-Jouni, a 32-year-old charged with murdering a person from the Jurdi family, and Said Sabra, also 32, shortly after they managed to break out of the prison.

Sources told The Daily Star the inmates escaped at 4 a.m. from the block that houses prisoners who have been sentenced.

The Internal Security Forces and the Lebanese Army searched for the inmates in the woods surrounding the prison as soon as their escape was discovered, according to the sources. The ISF said Jouni and Sabra were arrested separately at 7:15 a.m. and 9:50 a.m. respectively.

The ISF has released a photo of Abdel-Rahman, asking citizens to come forward with information about him by contacting the police hotline on 1123 or 01-426-688.

“We’re used to it now,” said a cook at a cafe near Roumieh prison. “A prisoner is inside for life, what are they going to think about except escape?”

Roumieh, Lebanon’s largest prison facility, is located near residential and commercial areas in the Metn region.

Army commandos and ISF officers set up checkpoints as far away as 2 kilometers from the prison at the mountain pass leading up to the jail and the town of Roumieh, mostly to inspect cars leaving the area.

The government’s deputy commissioner at the Military Tribunal, Judge Sami Sader, visited the prison and has launched an investigation into the incident.

A judicial source said Sader’s probe centers on 12 prison guards who might have helped the inmates escape.

“The picture is almost complete and Judge Sader is expected to finalize his investigation tomorrow and refer whoever the probe reveals is accused of negligence or was an accomplice to the military prosecutor,” the source said.

Jouni, Sabra and Abdel-Rahman plotted their jailbreak together after monitoring possible escape routes, according to the source.

After breaking into an office and threatening an employee there with sharp objects, the three inmates stole the keys to the gate that connected their prison block to the courtyard, the source added.

The three then climbed over the basketball court fence and onto the roof of a smaller building, where they tied several sheets together and let themselves down the other side of the prison walls using the knotted fabric as a rope, the source said.

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk expressed hope that the security forces would arrest the third fugitive as soon as possible. Speaking to the Voice of Lebanon Radio Station, Machnouk said the officers suspected of dereliction of duty would be punished.

There was limited activity Monday in front of the prison, where the forest bordering the area stretches away for miles. Some officers spoke of the difficulty of finding an escapee amid the dense vegetation, saying it would be difficult to escape from there through the nearby valley.

Locals in the area were reluctant to speak about the prisoner escape.

But Mazen Zgheib, who began working Monday at a facility across from the prison, said he was a little worried by the presence of several checkpoints in the area and traffic jams on the way to work. He said his office had not taken any additional security precautions because they were “used to this kind of news.” – Additional reporting by Kareem Shaheen

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 25, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

A government probe into a dramatic escape from Roumieh prison of three inmates, one of whom remains at large, will investigate 12 guards who may have helped the prisoners flee, a judicial source told The Daily Star.

Security forces Monday launched a manhunt for one of the inmates after two others he broke out with were captured, security sources said.

The Internal Security Forces and the Lebanese Army searched for the inmates in the woods surrounding the prison as soon as their escape was discovered, according to the sources.

Army commandos and ISF officers set up checkpoints as far away as 2 kilometers from the prison at the mountain pass leading up to the jail and the town of Roumieh, mostly to inspect cars leaving the area.


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