BEIRUT: Police in Lebanon yesterday hunted for 44 fugitive prisoners who escaped from a detention center on the outskirts of Beirut, calling on local residents to be on alert. Despite tight security, 69 people broke out of a detention facility near the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, a police statement said. Five were killed in a car accident, when they lost control of the stolen vehicle as they rushed away and crashed into a tree. One other person was taken to hospital.
By early afternoon yesterday, 15 had been recaptured, and another four had handed themselves back in, leaving 44 on the run. “A manhunt is…underway to arrest the remaining fugitive prisoners,” police said in a statement. Local authorities called on residents to be on alert, with large numbers of security forces deployed searching the area.
Prosecutor Ghada Aoun has ordered an immediate investigation in the breakout. Speaking to AFP, she said she did not rule out the possibility of “collusion between the detainees and security guards tasked with protecting their cells”. Judge Fadi Akiki, a government representative at the military court, held a meeting with security officials after inspecting the detention facility and site of the car crash.
Relatives of the inmates gathered outside the detention center, located in Baabda’s Justice Palace, where some were awaiting trial. Some asked about the fate of their relatives, while others handed their sons back into custody, according to an AFP photographer. They include Joumana Berjawi, whose 22-year-old son escaped after being held for six months on charges of attempted murder – a charge she denies. “My son was among the escapees, but I brought him back and handed him over to the state,” Berjawi told AFP.
The jailbreak comes as detainees across Lebanon have called on parliament to approve a draft general amnesty law that would see thousands of them freed from coronavirus-hit prisons. Lebanon has recorded over 113,000 COVId-19 cases including 884 deaths since the outbreak began in February. The country is currently under lockdown until the end of the month to stem an uptick in infections.