BEIRUT: Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Monday that those security personnel found to be involved in the prison break of Islamists from Roumieh jail would be severely punished.
“I don’t understand how prison security could help inmates in their escape... Their punishment will be considerable this time,” Charbel told the Kataeb-run Voice of Lebanon Radio Station.
Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi , who along with Charbel inaugurated a new courtroom aimed at speeding up the trials for Fatah al-Islam inmates, said the facility was an essential part of efforts to improve Roumieh prison, where last week staff discovered three members of the Islamist group had escaped.
Qortbawi added that the facility would play a crucial role in the resolving the issue of the prisoners detained at the prison with charge.
“The cases will be distributed to different judges to speed up the inmates’ trials. Every judge will [investigate] a certain number of detainees to swiftly kick-start the trials,” the minister said.
Qortbawi praised the facility, saying it was fully equipped for the task at hand.
“The new courtroom at Roumieh prison comes fully equipped and includes bulletproof windows,” he said.
Meanwhile, Military investigating Judge Danny al-Zeini continued to listen to additional testimonies from all those in charge of running the Roumieh prison, including employees and doctors.
During the radio interview, Charbel slammed Lebanon’s sectarian system which on some occasions meant the “wrong people” were selected for important security posts. “We have been choosing police elements recently to preserve the current sectarian formula, which has led to the hiring some of the [least competent] members ... We are all to blame for that, along with the Lebanese state,” said Charbel.
The minister added that he would no longer allow political intervention in the running of the Roumieh jail and said measures would be tightened at Lebanon’s largest prison.
“I will not respond to politicians anymore, and I will show no mercy toward violators,” he said.
Charbel described Roumieh’s prison break as a “scandal which prison guards are to blame for.”
Charbel reiterated that the bust from the detention facility came with the help of insiders.
“The three men who fled used fake identification papers in an arrangement with some security guards at Roumieh prison,” charbel said.
The Lebanese official also revealed that cells where Fatah al-Islam inmates are being held had not been inspected since 2010.
Earlier in the day, Charbel told Voice of Lebanon that probes were under way to reveal the identity of officers who helped the three Fatah al-Islam inmates escape the prison.
“If members in Roumieh prison hadn’t helped the inmates, they wouldn’t have been able to escape,” Charbel said.
He also said that most of the escape attempts usually took place during visiting hours.
“During visits, guests enter and exit the prison, so it is easier to break out of jail at such times,” Charbel said.
The minister also said that Roumieh prison was an old building that dated back 50 years, which made it prone to escape attempts.
“There are also 50 cell doors that were destroyed two years ago during riots, and they haven’t been fully repaired yet because each door needs more than a month to be restored,” he added.
The minister also said that the regulations in Roumieh's prison would be modified and the inspection procedures enhanced.
Thirteen security personnel were arrested over the weekend over suspicions of being involved in the prison break. Among the detained was Roumieh’s warden Maj. Ahmad Abu Daher.
Islamist prisoners have been held in Roumieh for several years over suspected links to Fatah al-Islam, which fought the Lebanese Army in the north Lebanon Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in 2007.