Nearly 40 prisoners are on the run in Lebanon following a daring jailbreak on the outskirts of Beirut, which began when 69 inmates burst out of their cells at dawn on Saturday morning.
Residents in nearby neighbourhoods are being warned not to open their doors to people they do not know as security forces continue the manhunt for the escaped felons.
Five of the inmates died when they crashed a car that they stole while fleeing into a tree as they were chased by the police. The Internal Security Forces currently have 27 of the escapees in custody.
Inmates had outnumbered guards at the Baabda Detention Centre and they were reportedly able to break open the cell doors and lock the security personnel inside before escaping.
The mother of one of the escapees told local TV that when her son arrived home, she drove him straight back to the prison out of fear that the government would always be looking for her son. Her 22-year-old son had been held at the detention centre for six months on charges of attempted murder.
The detention centre is thought to hold pre-trial detainees. Lebanese judge and prosecutor Ghada Aoun said she had ordered an immediate investigation into the breakout.
In an interview with AFP, the prosecutor said she did not rule out "collusion between the detainees and security guards tasked with protecting their cells."
Riots and attempted escapes have rocked Lebanon’s coronavirus-hit prisons over the past several months and families have organised protests calling for the release of their relatives from dangerously overcrowded facilities.
According to the World Health Organisation, 734 cases of coronavirus had been confirmed among Lebanon’s prison population by the end of October. The total number of registered cases in the country on Saturday passed 115,000.
Coronavirus cases have been soaring in Lebanon’s overcrowded prisons as the country has struggled to control the number of infections since the August 4th explosion tore through Beirut.
As a COVID-19 prevention measure, 600 prisoners from pre-trial detention were released in April. Amnesty International almost immediately called for the release of more prisoners and said authorities should prioritise releasing prisoners who had served their sentences and expedite a review of pre-trial detainees.
A draft general amnesty law has been promised for years but has never been passed.