BEIRUT — At least three inmates died and sixteen others were injured in a fire that occurred during a mutiny in Zahle prison, L'Orient Today's correspondent reported. The incident was confirmed in the evening by Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF) in a statement.
According to the statement, the prison administration in Zahle was alerted "around 12:30 that an escape attempt was being prepared through an opening in the wall of one of the cells ... Immediately, a team was dispatched to inspect the said cell."
"When they approached the location of the opening, which was concealed by a wooden cabinet and covered with a piece of cloth, they encountered resistance from some inmates who took two officers and one agent hostage. After a brief confrontation, the team managed to leave the area," the statement added.
"After the failed escape attempt, inmates began setting personal belongings and mattresses on fire in some cells on the second floor," the statement continued.
The fire then quickly spread, and the smoke intensified. Inmates who inhaled the smoke were evacuated and the fire was contained, according to the ISF.
The statement confirmed that three Lebanese nationals died of asphyxiation. Sixteen inmates were transported to hospitals in the region to receive medical treatment and are in stable condition, according to the police.
نتيجة إحباط قوى الأمن الداخلي لعمليّة التحضير للفرار من سجن زحلة، قام عدد من السجناء بافتعال حريق أدّى إلى سقوط ضحايا بسبب تنشقّهم الدخان الكثيف.https://t.co/Zu9beMgjqx#قوى_الامن pic.twitter.com/MWRFTFdomQ— قوى الامن الداخلي (@LebISF) October 6, 2023
Zahle's prison accommodates 650 inmates. Ambulances from the Red Cross and the Civil Defense are transferring the injured to the Elias Hrawi Governmental Hospital for treatment, our correspondent reported.
A security official told AFP that "clashes broke out between security personnel and prisoners."
“Inmates set fire to their cells, killing three people” and plunging the prison into a state of “chaos”, according to the same source. The fire quickly spread to the upper floors and caused significant damage, with “entire cells set on fire.”
Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi's press office said in a statement that he contacted the "Chief of the Army, General Joseph Aoun, hoping that the area around the prison remains secure. He spoke with the General Director of Civil Defense, Brigadier General Raymond Khattar, to reinforce the Civil Defense units that are working to extinguish the fire and evacuate the prisoners from their rooms."
The statement a "Mawlawi has appointed the Governor of Baalbek, Judge Kamal Abu Joudah, to oversee the field procedures and what is happening on the ground, particularly in terms of evacuating the prisoners and providing medical assistance to the injured among them."
In September, Sour prison inmates cut themselves with sharp objects as a form of protest and demanded that prison administration provides improved meal service, better hygiene and time to rest, according to security sources.
The four year long economic crisis worsened conditions in prisons and detention centers, where overcrowding and lack of medical care regularly provoke riots.
Reporting contributed by Sara Abdallah.