The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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November 28, 2014

The Daily Star - Former terror suspect recalls Roumieh hell, November 28, 2014

Elise Knutsen

For five years, Ahmad slept with tissues wadded in his ears, hoping to dissuade the cockroaches of Roumieh prison’s Block B from nesting inside his head. The accused terrorist, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, sleeps easier now that he has been released, but memories of his incarceration continue to haunt him.

“I was in a different world. It was like I had died and God was punishing me in hell,” Ahmad told The Daily Star in an exclusive interview.

His kindly face reddened as he discussed the most difficult moments of his incarceration.

Arrested in 2008 and accused of involvement in a plan to bomb a government building in Beirut, Ahmad was kept in solitary confinement and harshly interrogated for three months.

Ahmad describes in gruesome detail how his genitals were whipped with a braided electrical cord. “I started urinating blood. “They told me they would make it so I could not have any more children,” he recounts. He was also suspended from his wrists and repeatedly beaten, a tactic called “balanco” by the Lebanese authorities.

“If you say what they want to hear, you will not be beaten. But I didn’t want to say things I hadn’t done. I would rather die,” he adds, not without defiance.

After three months, Ahmad was transferred to the third floor of Roumieh’s Block B, where terror suspects are held.

Roumieh’s third floor is home to approximately 150 terror suspects apprehended by Lebanese authorities. Inmates, who are left largely to their own devices by the prison authorities, pray together five times a day, and have developed their own society based around Islamic principles of morality and justice.

While prisoners pass most afternoons and evenings watching TV, no entertainment programming is allowed. “We are only allowed to watch the news,” Ahmad recalls. “Sometimes the prisoners don’t want to see a female broadcaster [if she is dressed immodestly] and so they put a sheet over the whole television set.”

During his incarceration, Ahmad witnessed a shift: Prisoners who had once been divided between Al-Qaeda and Fatah al-Islam began affiliating with the Nusra Front and ISIS.

The leader of ISIS in Roumieh, Ahmad says, is a Yemeni prisoner, while the Nusra faction is headed by a Syrian-Palestinian.

ISIS and the Nusra Front are friendly inside Roumieh. “Outside, ISIS and Nusra seem different, but inside they are friendly with each other,” Ahmad added.

Disputes on the floor are adjudicated by an elected representative who is well versed in Shariah law.

Prisoners on the third floor of Block B have distinct privileges. The inmates have their own water filtration system and an exclusive internet router.

Some “high ranking terrorists,” Ahmad says, use laptops to communicate with and possibly issue instructions to their networks outside Roumieh.

The embassy for an Arab government with several citizens in Roumieh regularly brings “big containers with meat, fish, cheese, chocolate and money,” he claims. Money from this Arab government, Ahmad adds, is used to pay for Internet on the floor.

In the five years he was in jail, Ahmad said that around 100 inmates from Block B had converted to Sunni Islam and moved to the third floor, where they were able to enjoy the luxuries afforded to the Islamist prisoners. Converts, according to Ahmad, are required to proclaim their faith to the entire prison block and to their families.

While recreational drugs, relatively common in Roumieh, are strictly forbidden on the third floor of Block B, Ahmad claims that some prisoners take Xanax and anti-depressants purchased from inmates on other floors in exchange for protection.

After five years in prison, Ahmad was allowed to leave. A video, filmed by other inmates, shows him greeting his mother in the courtyard of Roumieh, before collapsing and kissing her feet.

While some inmates in Roumieh discuss openly their plans to wage jihad after their release, Ahmad says he has no such plans.

He has forsaken the Salafi sheikh whom he once followed. “All these types of sheikhs are liars,” Ahmad says. “They do business under the guise of religion.”

Ahmad has found work as a driver for an NGO, and is able to support his family. But most prisoners, he says, work for “Salafi sheikhs” when they are released from Roumieh. Ahmad turned down one such offer.

He is disgusted by the regional developments, and decries the “false Islamic State” that has arisen recently in Syria and Iraq.

He has cut all ties with acquaintances from Roumieh, he says, partly because Lebanese Military Intelligence monitored his phone after he was released. Ahmad does not trust Lebanese officials, but is determined never to return to Roumieh.

“Even if it was made of gold and had all the women in the world, I would never go back”

He hopes troubled young men can learn from his mistakes. “Are you going to do everything the sheikh says? Don’t forget about your wife. You will shatter your family just for jihad? Who is going to feed your family?” he says, admonishing would-be terrorists.

With help from his social workers, both Ahmad and his family participated in an extensive rehabilitation and reintegration program.

“It’s a new start,” he says with a boyish smile.

Ahmad’s wife gave birth to a daughter months after he was arrested, and a second child – a boy this time – is due later this month. “He will be called Adam,” Ahmad says, beaming.

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