Convicts evacuated from flooded jail
ARLES, France, Dec 5 (AFP) - Dangerous inmates convicted for terrorism and major crimes were being evacuated Friday from a prison in southern France that was flooded because of heavy rain in the region, authorities said.
The “highest security” cases among the 193 convicts were the first taken out of the facility in Arles, between Marseille and Montpellier, in inflatable dinghies and barges under heavy guard from specialised police units, a prison official told AFP.
Once on solid ground – more than a kilometre (half a mile) from the inundated prison – they were being bundled into detention vans bound for three different other jails.
The “exceptional and delicate” operation involved more than 200 prison guards and police and was expected to go on for most of Friday, the region’s top administrative official, Christian Fremont, said.
The importance of the matter was to be underlined by an inspection later Thursday by Justice Minister Dominique Perben.
Authorities were forced to evacuate the prison after water of up to 1.8 metres (six feet) flooded the facility Thursday.
“Everything was destroyed,” said a prison union representative.
Heavy rain in the south and east of the country this week claimed six lives, forced the evacuation of more than 10,000 people and resulted in Marseille and its surrounding area being declared a disaster zone.
Lawyers and prison officials said the Arles prison had been holding some of France’s most dangerous convicts.
They were “the big fish in the prison system, incarcerated for things ranging from terrorism to major crime,” one source said.
Among them was Jean-Marc Rouillan, the former chief of a Marxist-Leninist extreme-left militant group called Action Directe which was deemed by Paris to be a terrorist organisation for its anti-Jewish and anti-US actions in the 1970s and 1980s.
Others included Islamic extremists, and militants from the separatist Corsican and Basque groups, the sources said.
Subject: French news