ROUMIEH, Lebanon: Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk vowed Monday to confront terrorism in Lebanon, be it around the country or inside the prison.
“Our hand will reach everywhere where there is terrorism. This is the hand of the state, justice, logic and the protection of people,” Machnouk said during the launching of the construction of a badly needed new wing in the notorious Roumieh Prison.
During comments at the new wing’s groundbreaking, Machnouk spoke about recent developments in Iraq, describing the radical Islamists advancing on the ground as “terrorists” and stressing that Lebanon was not totally isolated from what was happening there.
“No one should forget what is happening in countries that surround us, and most recently in Iraq. These developments are of terrorist nature,” Machnouk said, in reference to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria taking large swathes of northern Iraq earlier this month.
“Whoever says that Lebanon is an exception and isolated has to review geography and history. Neither history nor geography indicate that Lebanon is isolated.”
“We have implemented a security plan in partnership with the Army and with the total cooperation of [Army commander] Gen. Jean Kahwagi. The main title of any real security plan that paves the way for establishing a state is the confrontation of terrorism,” Machnouk explained.
Lebanon has implemented a number of security plans in various regions around the country including Tripoli, the Bekaa Valley and Beirut in recent months. In Tripoli, in particular, the arrest of dozens of militants has brought longtime clashes to an effective lull in the city.
Roumieh holds a number of inmates that are linked to Al-Qaeda affiliates, including the Islamist group Fatah al-Islam that fought the Lebanese Army at Nahr al-Bared in summer 2007.
“There is a breeding ground for terrorists in this prison,” he said, addressing a crowd of politicians, security officers, judges and journalists. “God willing and during a short period of time, we will confront terrorism inside jail.”
He lamented the delay in trials for Islamist militants, saying they are having a negative impact on maintaining peace within the prison. Machnouk said 62 percent of prisoners are yet to be tried, an issue that led to rioting across the facility in 2012.
Roumieh is Lebanon’s largest prison and holds around 7,800 prisoners, over three times the capacity.
The prison’s conditions and overcrowding have long been derided by prisoners, religious figures, and human rights nongovernmental organizations. A report released by Human Rights Watch in 2012 read, “Conditions in prisons remain poor, with overcrowding and lack of proper medical care a persistent problem.”
Starting Monday, the Lebanese government has launched the construction of another wing in Roumieh for inmates to take pressure off the congested holding areas.
Machnouk urged Lebanese authorities, including prosecutors and the Supreme Judicial Council, to speed up the trials “so that no one oppressed will remain in prison.”
The new building, where high-security prisoners will be placed, was described as “very important” by Internal Security Forces spokesman Joseph Moussallem. He added that the ISF was working with the Interior Minister to implement a full reform of Lebanese prisons and said that similar initiatives would be undertaken in four other prisons around the country.
Roumieh’s new wing will be constructed by Spectrum Energy Consultants and Binaa & Iamar.