EGYPT: Thousands of protesters storm into state security headquarters
In an attempt to save documents that may incriminate Egypt's notorious state security services for years of torture and abuse, thousands of protesters on Saturday stormed Interior Ministry offices around Cairo as word spread that security officials were attempting to destroy files.
Witnesses and residents in 6th of October, a Cairo suburb, said protesters marched toward a state security office to prevent officials from burning documents. Protesters said they saw flames coming from near the building in the early hours of Saturday. About 3,000 protesters surrounded the building, eventually storming in and later handing it over to the army.
Witnesses claim that the majority of files, which may lead to the prosecution of state security officials for misuse of power, corruption and human rights violations, were already burned by the time protesters arrived. The documents, according to human-rights groups, would offer an intricate paper trail to former President Hosni Mubarak's reviled police state.
Police officers working at the state security building in 6th of October told the Egyptian independent website Al Youm Al Sabee that they received orders to get rid of all the documents. That news came as former Interior Minister Habib Adli appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering and illegal profiteering. His trial will resume April 2.
Later Saturday, several thousand protesters broke through barriers of the state security headquarters in the neighborhood of Nasr City. "State security obviously made an attempt to cover up or destroy implicating evidence of their horrible deeds over the last 30 years," Ahmed Raouf, one of the protesters, told The Times from inside the headquarters.
Protesters gathered documents and handed them to military officers, who in turn, forwarded files to a representative from the Attorney General's office. Another nearby state security headquarters also was successfully stormed less than an hour later. Many of the protesters were Islamists who either served time or had a member of their family detained at the underground building.
"I was kept here for a month in 2004. They [state security] detained me for no other reason than being religiously committed," said Tarek Al Sayed told The Times from inside one of the building's abandoned cells.
Protesters found reams of burned documents buried by the building's main gate. Some documents accused defendants of being militants. One read: "Investigations showed that the suspect had a brief training spell at the Russians' camp in Chechnya."
Some of the documents were signed by Hesham Abu Gheida, who was recently appointed new state security chief. The protests at the state security offices began Friday in Alexandria. Witnesses said that police officers fired guns and hurled Molotov cocktails at protesters, injuring at least four of them before demonstrators seized control of the building and handed it over to military forces.
"They tried to scare us off with their gun shots and Molotov [cocktails], they burnt a few cars that were parked in the area in the process," Hussein Nasr, who was at the scene on Friday, told The Times. "Once we got in, we could see that they have got rid of all the documents they had. Most of what we saw was pieces of papers and we gave whatever was left to military officers."
An unnamed official quoted by state-ran newspaper Al Ahram later denied that police officers fired gunshots, adding that 21 police were injured during the clashes. State security was known for its pervasive grip on society under Mubarak. Under the nation's 30-year-old emergency law, thousands of suspects were interrogated and imprisoned in state security courts and jails.
Abolishing the state security system has been a main demand for Egyptian masses since the start of the Jan. 25 revolution.
--Amro Hassan in Cairo
Photo: Protesters outside a state security building. Credit: Agence France-Presse