Lebanon News

Judge orders Roumieh warden detained

Lebanese policemen stands guard at the Roumieh Prison, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Military prosecutor Saqr Saqr ordered the detention of the warden of the country’s largest prison Sunday after the escape of three Islamists was discovered last week. Saqr ordered the detention of Maj. Ahmad Abu Daher, the warden of Roumieh prison, along with Lt. Abdel-Hafiz Fawwaz, for investigation.

Earlier in the day, members of the Internal Security Forces raided cellblock B on the third floor where Islamists are held, confiscating saws, mobile phones, knives, syringes and other material.

It was also discovered that Islamist prisoners had obtained contraband laptops and installed an Internet connection in their bloc, allowing them to communicate with the outside world through Skype.

The prisoners did not resist as the ISF unit responsible for prisons conducted the raid while the inmates were resting, catching them off guard.

A security source told The Daily Star that some Islamist inmates were interrogated on the prison break discovered last week. The source said that prisoners did not provide information, claiming that it was forbidden by religion to do so.

Last Friday Roumieh guards discovered that three prisoners – Syrian Omar Othman, Palestinian Mohammad Falah and Algerian Faisal Aiqala – had escaped when they sought to summon one for his court date.

The men, members of Fatah al-Islam, are believed to have left the prison through the main gate using fake IDs around a month ago. Authorities suspect the men left for Syria. Some media outlets said that Falah was later killed in Syria.

Over the weekend, Judge Dani al-Zeini, Saqr’s aide, ordered the arrest of 11 members of Roumieh’s prison unit over the case. A judicial source told The Daily Star that Zeini questioned officers from Roumieh’s unit Sunday.

Around 200 Islamists have been held in Roumieh since summer 2007 over links to Fatah al-Islam. The militant group fought deadly battles against the Lebanese Army in the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared that claimed the lives of around 180 soldiers. Most of the Islamist detainees have yet to stand trial and some of them were released in June.

Roumieh prison is overcrowded and many of its doors remain broken after inmates staged an uprising last year over slow judicial proceedings and chronic overcrowding.

There are plans to construct several prisons across the country in order to reduce overcrowding in Roumieh.

President Michel Sleiman voiced his displeasure over the escape and said staff at Roumieh prison should be held accountable for negligence.

“The escape at Roumieh prison is unacceptable, particularly as it comes at a time when the military and security forces have ended chaos in some areas [of the country],” the president said over the weekend.

Sleiman called for investigations into the incident and taking the necessary steps to re-arrest the prisoners.

“The force tasked with security at the prison should be held fully responsible ... it is unacceptable for an escape to go unnoticed and for the officials not to be held responsible for negligence in this regard,” Sleiman told Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, the head of the ISF, according to a statement from the president’s office. Rifi visited the president at Baabda Palace.

Sleiman also asked the Interior Ministry and the military judiciary to carry out their duties in this matter.

Speaking to a local newspaper, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel denied that the three inmates had managed to escape without notice around a month ago, noting that a prisoner count is done every day.

He said that the three missing Islamists are not “dangerous,” adding that they did leave the prison through the main gate using fake IDs.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 15, 2012, on page 3.




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