Detainees' 'Operation Room' Destroyed in Roumieh Prison Raid

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Members of the ISF Information Branch secure the perimeter around Roumieh Prison on January 12, 2015 as part of Interior Minister Nouhad al-Machnouk's plan to clamp down on Islamists inside the prison. Al-Akhbar/Haitham Moussawi

By: Maysam Rizk

Published Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Lebanese Interior Minister Nouhad al-Machnouk spent a long, security-intense day at Roumieh Prison that began with smoke clouds rising from the prison complex and ended with putting an end to “the legend of Roumieh Prison.” In the meantime, not a peep was heard from all those who had championed the cause of the “Roumieh detainees” in recent years.

It appears that Interior Minister Nouhad al-Machnouk timed it just right. Despite his assertion that he had not taken any preemptive actions before the Roumieh raid yesterday to avoid the reactions of clerics, mainly the Association of Muslim Scholars and all those who championed the cause of the Roumieh detainees in recent years, it is clear that he picked the right political moment. The operation that began at 6:30 am on Monday, under his supervision, came at the height of the dialogue with Hezbollah and after the Future Movement succeeded in pulling the rug from under the feet of all the hawks and extremists in its midst. The latter is evidenced by the silence of these people yesterday. The Association of Muslim Scholars did not protest, MP Khaled al-Daher did not object and neither did his colleague Mouin Merhebi, and no Islamist group blocked a street in a town or neighborhood except an alleyway in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp.

The minister’s day began in the early morning hours to coordinate the operation. On his way to Roumieh Prison, Machnouk knew that the decision to end the permanent rebellion in Roumieh has the same kind of support that allowed the government to end the armed rebellion in Tripoli and the North a few months ago.

He arrived at the “Islamists’ fortified stronghold” an hour after the operation began and headed directly to the operation room. His main concern was to carry out the raid with minimal losses, knowing that he was going to “take responsibility for every drop of blood that was going to be spilled and was going to forge ahead with the operation until the end, irrespective of its danger.” He did not hold back in fear of new obstacles. While the prison’s perimeter was cordoned off with Civil Defense cars, ambulances and a private communication network, a “security task force” awaiting the minister inside the prison was keeping an eye on the execution of the raid. This task force consisted of Gendarmerie Commander General Elias Saadeh; head of the army Commando Unit Brigadier General Shamel Roukoz; head of the Gendarmerie in Mount Lebanon Brigadier General Jihad Howayek; head of the Information Branch Brigadier General Imad Othman; Roumieh’s Prison director Colonel Ghassan Maalouf and head of the Operations Room at the Internal Security Forces General Hussam al-Tanoukhi.

Inside, Machnouk continued to follow the details. For a moment, he even considered negotiating directly with the prisoners. The final few minutes leading up to the end of the raid were the hardest. No one expected the operation to end without bloodshed.

About 240 members of the security forces waited for Machnouk outside the prison. As usual, he gave a morale-boosting address. Since these men are “the legacy of the martyr Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan,” interacting with them can get emotional. Members of the Strike Force in the Information Branch immediately reacted when Machnouk mentioned Hassan’s name. They were proud of the success of the plan which was described by sources as “excellent, after it was carried out without causing any deaths or injuries among the prisoners.”

The first result of the security operation is “stripping the prisoners of all the privileges they had enjoyed. More importantly, the “operation room” they had established inside their building was destroyed and they will need a long time rebuild it. The operation, however, is not over yet. Difficult measures will be taken in the coming days, including organizing the prisoners into groups and separating them from each other.” There will be “pictures and recordings from inside the building” in the next few hours.

Machnouk insisted that he “did not coordinate with anyone regarding the operation except Prime Minister Tammam Salam who learned about it a short while before it started.” He also denied that he “brought it up in one of the dialogue sessions with Hezbollah and the Amal Movement in Ain al-Tineh.” The interior minister made light of questions suggesting there was some kind of barter in the security plan, specifically, in relation to the northern Bekaa region. Despite what he said about a new triangle of death for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) stretching from the hills of Ersal to Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp and Roumieh Prison, Machnouk ruled out the possibility of carrying out a similar operation in Ain al-Hilweh because “an operation of this magnitude requires a larger consensus and new calculations.” He added, “let’s also not forget that the camp is located in the city of Saida, and that is a very sensitive point.”

Except for the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, Machnouk confirmed receiving calls from all sides congratulating him on the operation.” As to whether there were objections, he said: “Who is going to raise his voice against measures designed to bring the prison under control?”

The security-intense day that Machnouk spent under the media spotlight was crowned by some of his colleagues in the cabinet singing his praise. The most notable praise came from Rashid Derbas, the minister of social affairs who hails from Tripoli. Nevertheless, the issue was not over for Machnouk. He “asked Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil for $30 million to build central prisons and rehabilitate Roumieh Prison” while he took it upon himself to secure the remainder from the private sector. They agreed to discuss the issue next week.” Jokingly, Machnouk asked Education Minister Elias Abou Saab to give some money from his pocket. Abou Saab promised to give a million Lebanese Lira ($660).

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


Happy New Year Everyone

$30.... million to build & rehabilitate central prisons
that sounds good
who is going to play the role of "Honest John" ... you know the guy who is going to watch that the monies get spent correctly ... may be correctly is not the right way to say it ... to make sure that the money does not get stolen before it can be spent as promised (?)
we all know that you can't leave a $1 coin on a bench without it vanishing instantly
Wow $30 million
Imagine how life could be if you were blessed with $30 million
Somehow I don't think it will go very far in upgrading the prison system though
I looked at some pictures of the prisons in Lebanon
$30 million is coffee money only

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