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Police launch fresh sweep of Roumieh Prison.

Summary: Police launched a "wide-scale search operation" early Monday in Lebanon's notorious Roumieh Prison following a weekend riot by Islamist inmates during which they briefly held 20 guards hostage.

BEIRUT: Police launched a "wide-scale search operation" early Monday in Lebanon's notorious Roumieh Prison following a weekend riot by Islamist inmates during which they briefly held 20 guards hostage.

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said a Strike Force unit, part of the Internal Security Forces' Special Operations Command, carried out the search operation at Roumieh's Block D between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.

"The Strike Force was able to crack down on the so-called birth of a 'security emirate' inside the prison," Machnouk told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.

He said a "few inmates" were injured after prisoners set fire to some mattresses during the morning operation.

Machnouk said the current severe overcrowding of Block D had caused the riot.

"It is normal for something like this to happen as Block D can house 400 inmates while 1,100 have been squeezed in it, increasing chances of chaos and alliances between terrorist groups," he acknowledged.

Machnouk said Roumieh's Block B, which has been closed for repair work, would reopen in 15 days.

Prisoners would be distributed in a secure way so as to prevent communication between the groups that form networks to spark mutiny, he said, adding that an investigation had been launched into the Friday-Saturday prison riot.

Machnouk visited the prison later Monday after the operation had been completed.

In remarks released later in the day after meeting Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Machnouk said that no more riots would take place in the prison.

"Internal Security Forces' Information Branch and a police strike force now completely control the prison, and we have taken the necessary measures to prevent a repeat of the incident," he said in a statement.

He also said he had tasked an unidentified police officer with heading a disciplinary investigative commission to identify the cause behind the riots. He said that he would not rush to conclusions before the results of investigations are released.

During the riot, Islamist inmates at Roumieh Prison demanded to be moved back to Block B.

An-Nahar Sunday quoted Interior Ministry sources as saying that the prisoners' top demand when they snagged 20 guards Friday was to be moved from Block D to their previous accommodation.

Block B was emptied and shut down after a large-scale police crackdown in January. It is scheduled to be reopened May 1 after repair works are completed, the sources told An-Nahar.

Friday, Islamist inmates began rioting around dinner time, they managed to take 20 guards hostage and close all doors to the block.

They also burned their mattresses, causing a fire that spread to the second floor of the facility.

The hostages were released late Friday evening, but it was not clear whether the guards were released by force or if an agreement was reached during negotiations between the inmates and the riot police.

A source from inside Roumieh prison also told The Daily Star that cell doors were broken and surveillance cameras were destroyed during the riot.

Inmates had enjoyed relative autonomy in Block B and prevented security forces from entering the building for years.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Apr 21, 2015
Words:556
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