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Brainwashing central: Tunisian prisons a hotbed for jihadist radicalisation Open in fullscreen

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Brainwashing central: Tunisian prisons a hotbed for jihadist radicalisation

Hundreds of prisoners are at risk of radicalisation in Tunisian prisons [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 April, 2016

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Free mixing between cell mates in Tunisian prisons is allowing easy access to militant recruitment.
Prior to the revolution he was imprisoned for fraud and drug trafficking but was released six years later only to join Ansar al-Sharia - a branch of al-Qaeda deemed a terrorist organisation by Tunisian authorities.

Ahmed Rouissi, also known as al-Shawkani or Abu Zakaria, has been wanted for terrorism since late 2012. The man, who managed to target several political and security leaders, had grown to become one of the most prominent Ansar al-Sharia leaders in the country.

Rouissi joined the militant group when he began mixing with members of Ansar al-Sharia during his time in prison, several human rights organisations suggested.

The lack of separation between those detained for terrorism charges and others have resulted in detention centres becoming a hotspot for recruitment.

Such a case is that of rapper Marwan Douiri, also known as Amino, whose eight month detention for abuse charges turned into a lifetime membership of a terrorist organisation.

The former prisoner, now more appropriately named Abu Ayman in accordance with Islamic State group nomenclature norms, pledged allegiance to the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi via a Facebook status before travelling to IS' de-facto capital, Raqqa.

Meanwhile Kamal Zarrouk, once nicknamed 'Shaqeef' by fellow cellmates, transformed from a drug promoter and thief into Ansar al-Sharia's second in command after Abu Ayyad.

The lack of separation between those detained for terrorism charges and others have resulted in detention centres becoming a hotspot for recruitment.

Dangers of female prisons

But female prisoners are no less dangerous, it seems.

Inspectors at a prison in the governorate of Manouba near the Tunisian capital were shocked to find a secret document belonging to a prisoner which depicts a step by step guide to storm the prison in no longer than six minutes.

The prisoner allegedly intended to pass the information on to one of the sixty female prisoners detained on terrorism charges.

But the concerns regarding the mixing of terrorists with other prisoners, especially in the capital’s Mornaqiya prison, has been raised, Ulfa al-Ayari, Head of Prison Union Reform told The New Arab.

They brainwash prisoners and push them to extremism and militancy, as well as towards declaring their allegiance to terrorist organisations inside prison," al-Ayari said.

"Most of those detained on terrorism charges in Mornaqiya Prison are leaders in financing, planning and implementation - they have the ability to persuade."

Inspectors at a prison in the governorate of Manouba near the Tunisian capital were shocked to find a secret terrorist 'how-to' document

Nothing has been done

But little has been done to prevent the brainwashing of prisoners in the capital's prison, and the separation of those within has yet to take place.

"Mornaqiya Prison has become a production house for terror cells and we have stressed this issue on several occasions," Habib Rashidi, president of the Observer Association told The New Arab.

"They convince them to believe their ideologies in prison and gain numbers outside when these prisoners are released," he added.

Hamza al-Obeidi was arrested in August 2015 for a period of three days for drug-related offences.

"I, myself was a witness to this brainwashing process," he told The New Arab.

"I used to hear them attempt to convince prisoners that the Tunisian army and security forces were enemies and tyrants."

According to the interior ministry, more than 200 prisoners detained under terrorism charges are scattered in prisons across the country. Experts predict this to rise to more than three thousand by 2019.

Foreigners from Algeria, Libya, Morocco as well as Europeans from France, Germany and Portugal are among those detained, the Ministry of Justice confirmed.

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