Security storms Lebanese prison after riot, fire

AP News
Posted: Apr 05, 2011 2:35 PM
Security storms Lebanese prison after riot, fire

Lebanese security forces stormed Lebanon's largest prison Tuesday, freeing three hostages, after several hundred inmates demanding improved conditions set a fire inside one of the buildings, a Lebanese security official said.

Inmates of the overcrowded Roumieh prison east of Beirut had been rioting for days, burning mattresses and breaking windows. On Tuesday, prisoners took three guards hostage in one of the buildings. In another building, prisoners set fire to highly flammable material inside the kitchen, triggering a blaze.

Thick black smoke billowed from the hilltop compound for several hours despite heavy rain.

Relatives of prisoners outside the prison threw stones at police as they brought reinforcements to the prison.

The security official said troops stormed the prison compound Tuesday evening in an effort to bring the situation under control. He said the hostages were freed and at least six inmates were wounded or suffered from smoke inhalation.

Prison riots are not uncommon in Lebanon, where inmates often demand better conditions and reduced sentences.

Interior Minister Ziad Baroud said Roumieh was built to take 1,050 prisoners but currently holds 3,700 inmates. He said that out of the total, only 721 have been convicted, while the rest are either awaiting trial or are now on trial.

Earlier in the day, relatives of Roumieh inmates held a protest against prison conditions, briefly closing a main road and burning tires. State-run National News Agency said the relatives also briefly closed roads in different parts of the country on Monday and Tuesday night.

Baroud said the families want authorities to "speed up the trials" of their relatives.

Among the prison's population are members of the al-Qaida-inspired Fatah Islam militant group, which fought the army inside a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon in the summer of 2007.