BEIRUT -- Five prisoners escaped a high-security Lebanese prison Saturday by scaling down the building's walls with bed sheets before mixing with visiting relatives and walking out of the compound with them, the interior minister said.
The minister, Marwan Charbel, blamed the escape from the Roumeih prison east of Beirut on "the pure negligence" of the guards and demanded that officers who were in charge when the jailbreak took place be punished.
He said the five men who escaped were a Lebanese, a Kuwaiti, a Mauritanian and two Syrians. Earlier in the day, security officials said those who fled were four Lebanese and a Sudanese citizen.
Local media reports said the escaped convicts included members of the al-Qaida-inspired Fatah Islam group. Charbel refused confirm or deny that there were Fatah Islam members among those who fled.
Fatah Islam fought a three-month battle against the army inside the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr el-Bared in northern Lebanon in 2007. 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.
Lebanese troops, backed by an army helicopter, set up a security cordon around the prison and searched all cars leaving the area, security officials said on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.