Lebanon frees 9 Islamist detainees on bail

Beirut, Lebanon- Judges freed nine Islamists on bail from a Lebanese prison on Tuesday in a move which could help defuse tensions in the city of Tripoli, after deadly clashes between rival groups of gunmen and between Palestinian refugees and the army.

Over 100 Islamists have been imprisoned on charges of aiding the al Qaeda-inspired group Fatah al-Islam since 2007, when the militants fought a 15-week battle with Lebanese forces at Nahr al-Bared refugee camp near the northern port city.

Islamists in Tripoli argue that the men imprisoned, who have yet to face trial, are innocent and that the Fatah al-Islam militants were either killed or fled five years ago.

Relatives of the inmates have held regular protests and Islamists have held sit-ins that paralyzed parts of Tripoli.

“This should help ease the politically charged situation and give some peace of mind to the people of Tripoli,” said the Islamist cleric Nabil Rahim, who has worked to free the detainees.

Fifteen people were killed in Tripoli two weeks ago when long-running tensions in the city, fuelled by the unrest in neighboring Syria, led to clashes between Sunni Muslim gunmen and Alawite supporters of President Bashar al-Assad.

At least three people have also been killed in two clashes in Nahr al-Bared since Friday.

The men freed on Tuesday were among a group of 14 originally expected to be released on bail, but a court source said five were still being held on charges of causing riots in prison.

Rahim said he hoped to get the court to win the release of all Islamist detainees while they await trial.

“I hope politicians in the country work to tackle the injustice against the other prisoners,” he said.