A fire at Saudi Arabia’s biggest prison is thought to have left at least 67 inmates dead and a further 20 injured.

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Three members of the security forces are also reported to have been hurt in the blaze at Al-Hair jail on the southern edge of the capital, Riyadh.

Some reports say a sponge mattress caught fire in a cell housing 20 inmates in wing 19 of the facility, setting off the blaze.

The stricken wing accommodates around 200 prisoners, and about 100 relatives of inmates were seen waiting outside the jail for information.

The official Saudi Arabian SPA press agency quoted the prison chief as saying a committee set up by Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz was investigating the cause of the fire.

Firemen and emergency workers “intervened immediately” after the fire broke out, the news agency earlier quoted him as saying.

It is not yet clear if the blaze was the result of an accident or if it had been deliberately started by inmates protesting prison conditions.

A Saudi opposition group, based in London, says as many as 144 inmates and 40 security men have died in the fire – that’s more than double the official toll given by authorities.

“According to an unimpeachable security source, 144 inmates have died in the fire at Al-Hair prison, in addition to 32 policemen and eight police officers,” said Saad al-Fagih of the Movement for Islamic Reform.

The AFP agency credited the London based group with being the first to break the news of the blaze.

The group added that three weeks ago, four inmates burned their cell in Al-Hair prison in what was thought to be a suicide.

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