Authorities in Lebanon have launched a manhunt after nearly 70 inmates broke out of a prison after smashing their cell doors and attacking prison guards.
The mass prison break on Saturday occurred at a facility holding pre-trial detainees in Baabda, a suburb of the Lebanese capital, Beirut.
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According to a police statement, five of the escaped inmates died when a car they stole while fleeing crashed into a tree during an ensuing police chase.
Police also said 15 inmates have been rearrested so far and four of the escaped prisoners handed themselves over. Security forces sealed off the area around the prison and were conducting a manhunt for the remaining prisoners.
President Michel Aoun was briefed by the caretaker interior minister about the break-out and ordered search operations be intensified and the incident be investigated, the presidency said in a Twitter post.
The state news agency NNA earlier said the prisoners had escaped from the prison at dawn after breaking open cell doors.
Prosecutor Ghada Aoun has ordered an immediate investigation into the breakout.
Speaking to AFP news agency, 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 the site of the car crash.
Relatives of the inmates gathered outside the detention centre, located in Baabda’s Justice Palace, where some were awaiting trial.
In April, Amnesty International said there had been riots inside Lebanese jails and families had organised sit-in protests calling for the release of prisoners over concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in overcrowded prisons.
It said that while the Lebanese government had taken several measures, including some releases, the authorities should prioritise releasing prisoners who had served their sentences and expedite a review of pre-trial detainees.