A photo of the security forces' operation in Roumieh prison, published on Twitter by Charles Lister.

Lebanese security forces evacuated a notorious prison wing on Monday which was believed to serve as a headquarters for jihadist prisoners. Nicknamed “the emirate”, the notorious Block B of Roumieh prison, near Beirut, was so dangerous that guards had been too afraid to enter it for months.

At the end of Monday’s operation, the security forces transferred more than 900 occupants of Block B to another wing of the prison, one that is under the control of the prison’s authorities. The prisoners tried to fight back by blocking the doors with objects and hurling missiles at the policemen.

Some of the prisoners were able to film the intervention and post the videos on social networks.

The prisoners claimed that several of them were injured during the operation, but this was denied by the Lebanese authorities. They said it unfolded “calmly” – despite the fact that the videos clearly show otherwise.

Lebanese authorities said that this operation had been planned for a long time. But according to the country’s interior minister, the decision to put it into action was taken when they intercepted telephone calls suggesting that Roumieh prisoners had taken part in the planning of a double suicide attack on a restaurant in an Alawite neighbourhood in the northern city of Tripoli.

The interior minister’s tweet reads: “Communications show that part of the terrorist attack on Jabal Mohsen [the Alawite neighbourhood] was planified in Block B.”

During the operation, security forces confiscated mobile phones, computers with Internet connections, and even weapons.

Roumieh prisoners include members of several jihadist organisations, including the Al Nusra Front, which is al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, as well as the Islamic State group. The Al Nusra Front has reacted to the operation by threatening to execute Lebanese military personnel that they captured in August 2014.

"The authorities set up a phone interference system on the prison's roof, but never turned it on"

Wadih Al Asmar works for the Lebanese Human Rights Centre, and regularly visits prisoners in Roumieh.

Officially, Block B has been off-limits to humanitarian organisations for several years now. However, we were able to go there several times. The prisoners in this wing are not treated particularly badly, but it’s overcrowded, like the rest of Roumieh prison. Between 40 and 50 percent of the country’s inmates are held at Roumieh, which is the largest prison in Lebanon.

The prison is understaffed, so it has put into place a system of “kapos”. These “kapos” are prisoners who have influence among their peers and make sure that order is respected. As time went on, the Block B “kapos” got more and more power, until the guards no longer dared go into the wing.

Like in many other prisons around the world, the inmates managed to smuggle in mobile phones and computers so they could stay in contact with the outside world. A few months ago, the interior ministry installed a phone interference system on the building’s rooftop. However, they never turned it on. I don’t know if they did this to appease the prisoners and maintain order, or if they had other reasons.

In order to control prisoners suspected of terrorism, our country needs better trained guards. In Lebanon, prisons are guarded by regular policeman, who don’t get specific training on how to deal with inmates. The prisons also need to become less crowded. To do this, we need shorter delays between arrest and trials. The wait can be very long – more than 70 percent of inmates in Lebanon are awaiting trial.