Officials report riot at Lebanon's largest prison

April 24, 2008 1:42:36 PM PDT
Scores of inmates rioted in Lebanon's largest prison Thursday, taking some guards hostage and setting prison clothing on fire to demand better conditions and shorter sentences, security officials said. Hours after the riots began at Roumieh prison east of Beirut, detainees were still in control of one building, surrounded by security forces, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

About seven guards were being held hostage, they said.

More than 3,000 men are held at Roumieh, including four former generals held in connection with the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and members of the al-Qaida-inspired Fatah Islam militant group. The officials said neither the generals nor the Fatah Islam members were near the area of the rioting.

Police Brig. Gen. Antoine Chakour was negotiating with representatives of the detainees, who demanded that conditions be improved and that their sentences be reduced.

Security reinforcements and riot police were sent to the prison, which was built 40 years ago to hold 1,000 inmates, although more than 3,000 are housed there.

The riots began about 5 p.m. when the prisoners attacked their guards and took some of them captive, the officials said. Some of the prisoners set their own clothes on fire, and black smoke billowed from the building for some time.

The inmates who rioted were mainly Palestinians and some Lebanese, they said.

In 1998, prisoners protesting overcrowded conditions at Roumieh rioted and took five guards hostage. Seven people, including five prisoners, were wounded when police stormed the prison and freed the guards.