Fugitive’s companion hospitalized after fall from Roumieh prison’s 10-meter wall
By Hussein Dakroub
BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities have mounted a massive manhunt for a member of an Al-Qaeda-inspired group who escaped from Beirut’s central prison in Roumieh, security sources said Thursday. Tuesday’s incident was the latest in a series of inmate escape attempts that have rocked the prison east of Beirut.
Mounjed al-Fahham, a Syrian, and Walid Boustani, a Lebanese, who belong to the militant Fatah al-Islam group, tried to escape from the Roumieh prison Tuesday, using blankets and bed sheets tied together to scale over the prison’s wall, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Fahham was apprehended by security forces after suffering injuries due to a fall from the wall, apparently because his improvised “rope” was torn. However, Boustani managed to escape, the sources added.
Fahham and Boustani are among the 220 Fatah al-Islam members who have been arrested on charges of involvement in terror attacks in the Palestinian Nahr al-Bared refugee camp and killing Lebanese soldiers in the northern city of Tripoli.
The Lebanese Army crushed Fatah al-Islam militants in 2007 after three months of fighting in and around the Nahr al-Bared camp on the outskirts of Tripoli. A total of 170 Lebanese soldiers, more than 120 militants and more than 200 civilians were killed in the fighting.
Boustani managed to escape by disappearing in the forests near the prison compound. Army commandos and Internal Security Forces (ISF) personnel conducted a manhunt for Boustani, using two army helicopters and sniffer dogs to scan the area, the sources said.
A security source denied Thursday media reports that Boustani had been arrested. Authorities are looking into the possibility that Boustani might have headed north, traversing a main road, the source said.
Fahham was taken to Al-Hayat Hospital, where he underwent surgery for fractures and injuries he suffered from falling from a 10-meter wall, the sources said. They added that police investigators are waiting to question Fahham as soon as his health condition permits.
Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud followed up the incident, ordering immediate investigation into the circumstances of the escape, the state-run National News Agency (NNA) said.
He also ordered the ISF to investigate whether there was dereliction of duty among the prison’s guards.
Following Tuesday’s incident, the ISF took new measures to tighten security inside the prison, including the changing of some inmates’ cells, which prompted protests from other Fatah al-Islam inmates, a security source said. The source added that the protests were normal whenever a transfer of some inmates’ cells takes place, and said the situation was fully under the ISF’s control.
In August 2009, eight Islamists tried to escape from the Roumieh prison. Taha Ahmad Haji Suleiman, a Fatah al-Islam militant, was found in the nearby village of Bsalim a day after his escape. Seven other Fatah al-Islam prisoners also attempted to flee but their escape was thwarted by prison guards.
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