'Dangerous' Syrian terrorist escapes Lebanese prison

Lebanese security officials say prisoners sawed off window bars, scaled building wall to flee into woods.

lebanon checkpoint 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
lebanon checkpoint 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
A Syrian terrorist belonging to an al-Qaida-inspired group escaped Tuesday from Lebanon's largest prison while guards foiled the escape of seven other suspects, Lebanese security officials said. The prisoners sawed off their window bars and scaled down the building wall from their cells using knotted blankets, then stood on each other's shoulders, allowing one of them to hop over a wall and flee into the woods, the officials said. They described the escaped prisoner, Taha al-Hajj Suleiman, as a "dangerous" member of the Fatah Islam group that fought a three-month battle against the army inside a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon in 2007. Suleiman escaped from the high-security Roumieh prison in eastern Beirut early Tuesday, the officials said. Police were quickly alerted to the escape and managed to prevent seven other members of the group from fleeing, they said. Security troops using army helicopters and police dogs subsequently launched a manhunt, sweeping the woods and areas near the prison to find Suleiman. The army released his picture and urged anyone with information to contact the military. Fatah Islam became widely known in the summer of 2007, when its fighters launched a battle against the military from their stronghold within the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon. It is believed to include militants from several Arab nations, including Syria. The Lebanese army crushed the group after three months, but the clashes left 220 militants, 171 soldiers and 47 Palestinian civilians dead. Dozens of the group's members were captured. Suleiman was among those arrested and charged with killing Lebanese troops during the camp fighting. He is also suspected of involvement in other bombings in Lebanon. The seven other Fatah Islam members who tried to escape Tuesday include Abu Salim Taha, who served as the group's spokesman during the fighting, and Yasser al-Shuqairi, who is standing trial for his role in twin bus bombings that killed three passengers on a mountain road east of Beirut in February 2007, the officials said. A third prisoner among the group attempting to escape broke his back when his blanket line got untied and he fell from a height of about five meters. The officials said he was hospitalized. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations. Roumieh prison was build four decades ago to house 1,000 prisoners but today has more than 3,000 inmates. It has repeatedly been the scene of riots by prisoners demanding better conditions.