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Lebanon's Roumieh Prison is “base for terrorism”: Interior Minister - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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This Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2009 file photo shows Roumieh Prison, Lebanon's biggest jail is seen in a hilly eastern suburb overlooking the capital Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein, File)

Roumieh Prison, Lebanon’s biggest jail, is seen in a hilly eastern suburb overlooking the Lebanese capital in this August 18, 2009, file photo. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein, File)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Lebanese security services have stepped up security around Roumieh Prison following reports of radical Sunni groups seeking to stage a major jailbreak to release Islamist inmates, Lebanon’s interior minister told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The decision was based on intelligence that Islamist groups were planning to mount a major jailbreak by driving a car bomb into the prison gates. The first security measures were implemented on Wednesday, including a ban on any vehicles from the vicinity of the prison.

Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said that his ministry takes the threats seriously, although he admitted that the mainly Islamist prison population had extensive privileges that were hampering security efforts.

The inmates “have access to all means of communication and the Internet, and are in contact with whomever they want,” Machnouk said, describing Roumieh Prison as a “base for terrorism.”

The prisoners largely gained that access to communications equipment following a 2011 riot over humanitarian conditions at Roumieh. But Machnouk said his ministry was looking to secure funding from a variety of Lebanese and international banks to refurbish the prison and improve conditions, including reducing prison overcrowding.

“The capacity of prisons and detention centers across Lebanon is not greater than 2,500 inmates. For the time being, there are at least 7,800 between prisoners and detainees,” he said.

But he ruled out the possibility of transferring inmates at Roumieh Prison to other detention centers while the humanitarian and security situations are improved.