Last updated: 12 January, 2015

Lebanon raids prison over links to bomb blasts

Security forces raided Lebanon's notorious Roumieh prison on Monday after discovering that inmates were linked to a deadly bomb attack last week, security services said.

Security forces raided Lebanon’s notorious Roumieh prison on Monday after discovering that inmates were linked to a weekend double suicide bomb attack, security services said.

The operations lasted several hours and targeted the prison’s B block, where many high-profile Islamists are detained, officials said, adding that the inmates were later transferred to another building.

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouq told reporters that detainees had helped “coordinate the attack in Jaban Mohsen (Saturday) from inside the prison”.

“The cell operating from Roumieh, which coordinated the movement of terrorists and communicated with extremist groups, no longer exists” as a result of the raid, Machnouq said.

Block B in Roumieh, east of Beirut, is known as a virtual no-go zone for security forces, where prisoners have access to laptops, phones and money.

A security official told AFP that all the personal belongings of the prisoners, including mobile phones, were left behind when they were transferred to another building.

The Internal Security Forces said earlier in a statement that some prisoners had rioted, starting fires in an attempt to thwart the operation.

It said that “several prisoners had links with the terrorist attacks at Jabal Mohsen,” in the northern city of Tripoli where nine people were killed Saturday in a double suicide bomb that struck a cafe.

The attack hit a neighbourhood inhabited mostly by members of the Alawite sect — an offshoot of Shiite Islam — to which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad belongs.

Fighting has regularly broken out between residents of Jabal Mohsen, who largely back Assad’s regime, and militants in neighbouring Bab al-Tebbaneh, where residents back the Syrian uprising.

Saturday’s attack was claimed by Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch Al-Nusra Front, which said it was revenge for two attacks against mosques in Tripoli in August 2013 that killed at least 45 people.

On Monday, as security forces raided Roumieh, Al-Nusra issued new threats against 16 Lebanese security forces it is holding hostage.

“As a result of the deterioration of security in Lebanon, you will hear about surprises regarding the fate of the prisoners we have,” the group wrote on Twitter.

Al-Nusra is believed to be holding 16 Lebanese security forces among 30 who were kidnapped in the eastern border town of Arsal during fighting in August.

Another nine personnel are being held by the Islamic State jihadist group, and one hostage died of wounds during the fighting in Arsal.

Four of those kidnapped have been executed — two of them by their Al-Nusra captors — and negotiations for the release of the remaining hostages have stalled.