Saudi fire investigators rule out sabotage

Investigators have ruled out sabotage as the cause of a blaze which killed at least 67 people and as many as 184 at the biggest prison in Saudi Arabia.

    Worried relatives wait to hear news about inmates

    Another 20 prisoners were injured as well as three members of

    the security forces at Monday's fire at Al-Hair jail on the southern

    edge of the Saudi capital.

    A committee was set up immediately

    to investigate the cause of the fire, but a

    high-level security source quoted by al-Hayat newspaper on Tuesday 

    ruled out "any act of sabotage".

    The

    source said:

    "This sort of accident happens anywhere and a short circuit

    cannot be ruled out, particularly since the fire started in the

    afternoon at a time when the electricity supply is overloaded."

    The blaze was put out on Monday

     evening, as about 100 relatives of prisoners gathered anxiously

    outside, awaiting permission to go in.

    Accident

    Al-Hayat said the facility houses foreign as well as Saudi

    common law prisoners.

    Prison service chief, Major General Ali Hussain al-Harathi said

    a sponge mattress caught fire in a cell housing 20 inmates

    , setting off the blaze.

    The stricken wing accommodates about 200 inmates.

    Three helicopters backed by dozens of ambulances evacuated the

    casualties.

    Al-Hair is Saudi Arabia's biggest
    prison


    A massive security cordon was thrown around the prison, and

    al-Riyadh newspaper reported it casued a traffic jam so bad that 

    there were numerous crashes.

    Rescue efforts delayed

    In London, a Saudi opposition group said security forces

    stopped and searched civil defence

    cars and ambulances, delaying rescue efforts and causing the toll to

    rise.

    The security cordon also prevented inmates from fleeing, leaving

    many to suffocate to death, charged Saad al-Faqih of the Movement

    for Islamic Reform.

    Al-Faqih did not rule out an accident, but said several sources

    reported the fire was started by inmates "who wanted to draw

    attention to their grievances, having failed to press their case by

    other means".

    In either case, the fire "was badly managed, with the Interior M

    inistry taking over rather than civil defence services and giving

    priority to security over rescue operations," Fagih said.

    The Movement for Islamic Reform, which was the first to break

    news of the fire, said 144 inmates and 40 security men perished in the

    inferno.

    SOURCE: AFP


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