More than 60 prisoners escape Lebanese jail

Five of them were killed when their car hit a tree while under pursuit

Five escaping prisoners died on Saturday when their car hit a tree after more than 60 detainees broke out of a Lebanese detention centre outside the capital Beirut, Lebanon's Internal Security Forces (ISF) said in a statement.

The ISF statement did not say how the 69 prisoners had escaped from the facility, which a security source said holds pre-trial detainees and is part of Baabda district prison near Beirut.

President Michel Aoun was briefed by the caretaker interior minister about the break-out and ordered that search operations be intensified and the incident be investigated, the Presidency tweeted.

The ISF said 15 prisoners had been caught while four others turned themselves in. The five died when a car they seized crashed into a tree in what the statement described as an accident while one prisoner was injured and taken to hospital.

The state news agency NNA earlier said the prisoners had escaped at dawn after breaking open cell doors.

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.

Lebanon faces a huge backlog of cases with not enough judges or court time to try detainees who - without a lawyer to try and expedite hearings -- can wait years before being handed a sentence. By the time many appear before a judge, they have already served longer than the time handed down.

Prisons are therefore overcrowded and experts in judicial reform warn of the risks of placing those detained for low-level crimes alongside more serious inmates in poor conditions.

In 2015, the Lebanese army went in to restore order in the notorious Roumieh prison where hundreds of dangerous inmates had effectively taken control of one of the wings and even ran command centres for terrorist groups in Syria and Lebanon.

Authorities intercepted telephone calls and found a double suicide bombing in a cafe in north Lebanon’s Tripoli in early January 2015 had been directed by one of the operations rooms inside Roumieh.