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EGYPT: Death of church-bombing suspect while in police custody prompts protests

January 11, 2011 |  6:53 am


The death in police custody of a suspect in the New Year's Eve bombings that left 25 Coptic Christians dead and scores injured in Alexandria, Egypt, has triggered demonstrations in the most populous Arab country. Protesters have criticized  Interior Minister Habib Adli over what they called the ministry's "brutal treatment and torture" of suspects.

Led by opposition Democratic Front and Tagammu parties, as well as Kefaya and April 6th Youth movements, protesters in Alexandria and Mansoura blamed security officers for the death of suspect Mohamed Sayed Belal.

"While we strongly condemn the Alexandria bombings and wish to unveil those behind such deadly attacks through legal means, we believe that Belal's death -- regardless of his political or religious orientation -– proves that authorities once again want to frame random suspects with the church bombings through torture," read a joint statement issued and handed out by demonstrators at a recent protest.

Detained among other Islamic extremist suspects after the bombings in the coastal city, Belal died while in custody on Jan. 6. His family members, who claim they have been threatened by police, have filed an official request for an inquiry. Belal's brother told Egyptian media that Belal, 32, had been beaten to death. 

"I call on the prosecution to provide security for Sayed Belal's family, who are being intimidated by security officers," Sobhi Saleh, the family's lawyer, told Al Youm Al Sabee news website.

An Alexandria prosecutor ordered an investigation and announced that initial an examination did not reveal the cause of death. Belal's ordeal follows the 2010 death of a 28-year-old Alexandria man, allegedly at the hands of two undercover police officers. That case sparked nationwide fury over Egypt's alleged record of beating and torturing suspects and detainees. 

Police have not yet charged anyone in the New Year's Eve attack at the Saints' church.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Aftermath of the Alexandria bombings. Credit: Associated Press