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IV. Arbitrary Arrests and Detentions

Widespread arrests in al-`Arish and the vicinity started around October 13, as the investigation into the attacks shifted from the central Sinai area around Taba to the north. The period of mass arrests appears to have been concentrated in the month of Ramadan—i.e., from mid-October through mid-November, but some arrests ostensibly in connection with the Taba attacks continued at least into mid-December and perhaps mid-January. As of late January 2005, at least hundreds and perhaps several thousand persons remained in detention.39

Aside from the Ministry of Interior statement on October 25 naming nine persons as the alleged perpetrators in the bombings, the Egyptian authorities have provided no information about the numbers of persons they have detained in connection with the Taba attacks, their identities, their whereabouts, or the legal basis for their arrest and continued detention. The government has neither confirmed nor contested the reports of Egyptian human rights organizations that placed the number of detainees at between 2,500 and three thousand persons. A political activist from al-`Arish who has been engaged in efforts to call attention to human rights abuses there told Human Rights Watch that these figures originated with a high security official during a meeting in early November with tribal and clan leaders.40

Shadi `Abd al-Karim, a lawyer with the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, told Human Rights Watch that he attended a public meeting in the al-`Arish area in the beginning of November with the governor of the governorate of Northern Sinai, Gen. Ahmad `Abd al-Hamid. He said the governor did not provide numbers during the portion of the meeting that he attended, but the number of families present and the tenor of the discussion indicated that the number detained was large. The meeting had been called by the governor in response to “public uproar,” `Abd al-Karim said, as a way of “absorbing the anger.”41

A high security official who requested anonymity told an Egyptian reporter that the 2,500 – three thousand estimate was exaggerated, claiming, “Eight hundred people at most were detained in the governorate after the Taba blasts.”42  A Cairo-based Western diplomat told Human Rights Watch that Gen. `Abd al-Hamid also had indicated privately that the number was in the hundreds rather than the thousands.43 It was not clear, however, if these lower estimates were intended to refer to the total number of persons detained in connection with the attacks or the number remaining in detention as of mid-December, two months after the mass arrests began. 

The Hisham Mubarak Law Center (HMLC), which represents more than one hundred of those detained in connection with the Taba attacks, reported on January 23, 2005, that the SSI had transferred previously unrecorded persons from al-`Arish to prisons in Cairo in mid-January—either newly detained persons or persons who had been detained earlier and kept illegally at al-`Arish SSI headquarters for an extended period.44 The HMLC told Human Rights Watch that as of January 27 it had filed 106 detention appeals; twenty-seven detainees had obtained release decisions but only six had actually been released.45

As noted above, on February 4, 2005, the government announced that the Ministry of Interior had released ninety of the detainees arrested in connection with the investigation into the Taba attacks, and that more releases would follow.46

Patterns of arrests and detentions

The testimonies of witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch indicate that arrests were carried out by agents of the SSI, many of them in plainclothes. Most of the arrests took place in pre-dawn morning hours, typically around 3 or 3:30 a.m., just prior to when people would awaken for the morning suhur, the meal that observant Muslims share during the month of Ramadan prior to the daytime fast. As noted above, the Egyptian human rights monitors reported that family members were detained to secure surrender of wanted persons—i.e., as hostages. In some cases that Human Rights Watch investigated, family members had been detained along with wanted persons, although they were not held as hostages. In one case the family member was tortured.

In all the cases investigated by Human Rights Watch, the arresting authorities produced no arrest warrant or judicial order, and said nothing to indicate the reason for the arrest. In almost every case, those who asked were told that “the pasha”—referring to the local SSI chief—“wants to ask him a few questions, just for five minutes.” In many cases, that was the last the families had seen or heard from their detained relative. None of the released detainees whom Human Rights Watch spoke with said they had been charged or received any official indication of the purpose for their detention.

The arresting officers initially took those arrested to the nearest SSI headquarters—in al-`Arish or, in the case of persons seized in the Shaikh Zuwaid area, in Egyptian Rafah. After three or four days there, and in some cases well over a week, during which time SSI officers interrogated most detainees and subjected many to torture and ill-treatment, the authorities transferred most to prisons in Cairo or in the Nile Delta or, in a few cases, released them. At any given time during the month of Ramadan, former detainees told Human Rights Watch, there were several hundred persons in detention at the al-`Arish SSI building, often confined in hallways or at the mosque next door. The detention center was severely overcrowded, resulting in unhygienic conditions; former detainees indicated to Human Rights Watch that at some points there were only two or three toilets available for hundreds of people. 

Many of the families interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that they did not know where those still in detention had been taken. Those who did know had typically learned through informal means, such as a phone call from a released prisoner who could tell them the location of their relative.

There is, at a minimum, a serious discrepancy between the actual date of detention and the recorded date at which time the legal basis may have been specified. Families and lawyers engaged to represent the detainees need this date in order to secure the assistance of the Detainees Affairs Office of the Ministry of Justice in determining the whereabouts and fate of a detainee within the system. Mohsin Bashir, an attorney with the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, told Human Rights Watch that relatives wanting to learn the whereabouts of a detainee would have to travel from al-`Arish to Cairo and “test visit” several prisons in the hope of locating them.47

This recorded date of detention is generally not known to family members, unless they are lucky enough to have learned it from released persons. Families told Human Rights Watch that they are afraid to “cause trouble” by pressing officials for information about the whereabouts of their detained relatives.

The public sector is a major employer in the northern Sinai, and many of those arrested worked for a government body or public corporation. In a number of cases, the employing agency removed them from the payroll for not showing up for work. In those cases where families approached government employers to inform them that an individual had been detained, and therefore removed from the rolls improperly, they were told that they needed a copy of an order showing the date of detention.  The families that Human Rights Watch spoke with have been unable to secure this document.

The last two interviews in the section that follows are with relatives of persons whom the Egyptian government has identified as suspects in the Taba attacks, concerning the detention of family members other than the suspects themselves.  In all other cases, the person detained or sought has not been identified as a suspect, and the authorities provided no reasons for the detention.

Cases of arbitrary arrest and detention

Mustafa A., twenty-seven

Mustafa A. lives in Shaikh Zuwaid, a town close to Egyptian Rafah and Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip. On the 10th of Ramadan (October 25) at around 3 a.m., he told Human Rights Watch, several vehicles carrying security officers came to his house and asked if anyone named “Mustafa” was there. When he identified himself, they asked him to come outside to speak with “the pasha” (commanding officer).48 “He asked me if I used to have a beard and if I belonged to al-Jama`a al-Islamiyya,” Mustafa said. “I told him, no, I’m a Sufi.”49 The officer then asked three detainees in one of the vehicles if they knew Mustafa. When they said no, the police left.

They returned two nights later, Mustafa said, again around 3:30 a.m., and told him that “the pasha” wanted to see him in his headquarters in Rafah, about fifteen minutes away. With him in the pick-up truck was his cousin, Hamid (not his real name), a thirty-five-year-old technical school teacher. In Rafah an officer told him they were looking for a Mustafa who was about forty-years-old—considerably older than Mustafa A.—and bearded. Mustafa was placed in a room of about nine square meters with no window and no ventilation, with seven other men. He said they had one blanket among them, and insufficient space to lie down. They were permitted access to toilet facilities only three times a day. He was not interrogated. He told Human Rights Watch that the commanding officer, whom the men knew as “Akram,” told him at one point, “I know you are not the wanted one, but they want [people named] Mustafa, what can I do?”

Four days later SSI officers put Mustafa in a small truck with others and transported him to al-`Arish SSI headquarters. There, he said, the two corridors were crowded with forty to fifty detainees each. In addition, three holding cells contained about fifty men each, and he saw fifty to sixty women in an adjacent mosque when he was allowed to use the mosque’s toilet facilities. An hour or so after he arrived, Mustafa said, SSI officers called him and another man also named Mustafa, blindfolded them, and roughly took them upstairs where he alone was pushed into a room.

They asked him if he belonged to al-Jama`a al-Islamiyya, and if he knew anyone who adhered to the group. “They read me some names. I didn’t recognize any. They said it was not in my interest that I didn’t recognize the names, they were from my town, and this was the way to clear myself. But I really didn’t recognize anyone.” An officer then pulled him out of the room and kept him standing with another detainee in front of the interrogation room.

Although he was not himself tortured, he said, he heard at various points some five to ten people screaming, and orders from four or five distinct voices to “suspend him” or “bring the electricity.” He had heard screaming very faintly when he was kept downstairs, he said, but much more distinctly when on the second floor.

After about two hours, they brought him back down and forced him to sit in a crowded corridor. His blindfold had been removed, and he recognized some neighbors from Shaikh Zuwaid. One man, a twenty-two-year-old brick worker, told him he had been there for a week. There were also about five adolescent boys, about fifteen years old, among them.

He was held there for about six days, he said. Very small amounts of food were provided, and there were three toilets, one for women and two for about 350 men. On any given day, Mustafa said, officers brought in many detainees and took many out.

The interrogation accompanied by torture and ill-treatment, he said, seemed to occur only at night; ten or so men would be taken out at a time. “We got no sleep those nights,” Mustafa said. “They were brought back naked and we massaged them, and removed the wires from their fingers and toes.” Mustafa said he thought he was not tortured because the Sufi leader he had named did vouch that Mustafa attended their gatherings and was therefore not an Islamist. For the most part, Mustafa said, it seemed that detainees were not called for interrogation a second time.

Mustafa said the SSI detained him a total of about four days in Rafah and eight days in al-`Arish before he was released. He told Human Rights Watch that he did not feel comfortable leaving his house for about two weeks thereafter. He said many had been arrested from Shaikh Zuwaid: “Ours is a small [extended] family, and twenty-two were taken. Five of them were arrested the same night I was released, and taken to Cairo.” He said that the authorities continued to make occasional arrests in Shaikh Zuwaid, as recently as two days prior to his meeting with Human Rights Watch.

Mustafa said that he and others in his family have had a hard time getting Egyptian identity papers, and that they are often accused of being Palestinians—for many Egyptians in the area a derogatory term. “They used to accuse us of being agents of Israel,” he said. “Now [they say] we are terrorists against Israel. They just want to get rid of us.”

Murad Ahmad, thirty-five, electrical engineer

Fathi Ahmad, sixty-eight, retired teacher

Fathi Ahmad told Human Rights Watch that about fifteen SSI forces came to his house in al-`Arish at about 3 a.m. on October 12 for his son, Murad, thirty-five, an electrical engineer with a state company.50 Some were in uniform and armed, some not. “They gave no reason,” he said. “They showed no warrant.” Fathi said that Murad has a “long beard” and recites the Qur’an, but that he is not part of an “Islamic party.” Murad was still in detention when Human Rights Watch spoke with his father. His father has heard from detainees who were released that Murad is in a part of the large Tora Prison complex outside Cairo.

Friends of Murad who had been in detention with him told his father that at some point around November 12, a month after the arrest, they learned that the Ministry of Interior had ordered their release. But when they called the names to be released, the authorities told Murad that he would have to remain. “I asked lawyers in Cairo if they met with my son,” Fathi told Human Rights Watch. “They said they were prevented.”

Murad’s wife and three children—a six-year-old girl and two boys, four years old and six months old, also live in Fathi’s home. Fathi said that his wife, Murad’s mother, is sixty years old and handicapped, requiring regular care. The state company that employed Murad has cut off his salary, leaving the family without income.

Fathi said that about ten SSI officers came back to his home around the 23rd of November. This time, too, they had no warrant.  Fathi said he opened the front gate to let them in. “They were shouting, ‘Get down, get down,’ and ‘Where is Murad’s room?’ They went to his room and ransacked it.” Fathi said the officers took away Murad’s computer. They returned the next day and took the telephone—not a mobile but a land-line handset. Then they came again a day or two later, on November 26, and searched Murad’s room once more, leaving with computer disks that Fathi said contained religious materials.

Fathi told Human Rights Watch that upstairs in his house is a room of another son, Rami, thirty-nine, who works as a teacher in Saudi Arabia and does not live at home. This time the officers searched this room as well. They didn’t take anything, Fathi said, but they broke the windows. “The soldiers [sic] were everywhere, shouting,” Fathi said. “It was a horrible atmosphere. We are citizens. We have rights. I am not an enemy. I’m an Egyptian. ‘I’m like your father,’ I said to them. ‘How can you do these things to citizens?’ But they took no heed of these words.”

This last time the SSI came to the house, they asked Fathi to visit the SSI offices “for five minutes.” “I went,” Fathi said.

The interrogation lasted four hours. “Who were Murad’s friends? What does he read? What sheikh does he listen to?” I said I knew nothing of this. My sons have grown up. After four hours, they told me to go to a cell. I was there three more days. They never asked another question. I asked them, “Did you call me here just because of my son’s long beard?” “Yes,” they said. “You are their father; we want to ask you about their behavior, their reading.” They asked me to send for Rami [in Saudi Arabia]. I told them that he is a grown-up. He will not come in response to my order.

Fathi said there were about two hundred people in the cell where he was kept. After he told this account to Human Rights Watch, he asked if he could now leave. “I have told you everything. But please don’t use our names. We are really afraid of them. They have no mercy.”

Fu’ad Yahya, forty-six, government maintenance employee

According to `Inayat Diab `Atwa Yahya, Egyptian security officers raided her home at around 6 a.m. on the 5th of Ramadan (October 20). She was inside with her husband, Fu’ad Yahya, an occupational safety engineer working for a government maintenance office in al-`Arish, and their twelve-year-old daughter. She said the police surrounded the house and jumped over a garden fence. When Fu’ad went outside, the police blindfolded him and put him inside a car. They searched the house, she said, and took religious books. She said that those who entered the house were armed plainclothes officers and said they were with the SSI. The next day his brothers brought food for him to al-`Arish SSI headquarters and were able to leave it for him there, indicating that this was where he was first detained. Three days later, however, he was not there, and police said they had transferred him to Cairo. “This was fifty days ago,” she said. “No one has seen him since, and we don’t know where he is.”51

Ahmad Sulaiman Salim al-Muslih, early twenties, unemployed

Sulaiman Salim al-Muslih is a member of the district-level governing council, an elected advisory body. He said that the authorities arrested his son Ahmad on the 1st of Ramadan (October 16). Ahmad was living at his father’s home in al-`Arish. His father was not present when security forces arrived at about 2 a.m. that night, he told Human Rights Watch, but his wife and daughters were. “The police broke in the house, asked for Ahmad, then took him and left,” he said. “He was still in his pajamas. They took religious books that he had bought at the Cairo Book Fair. If those books are prohibited they shouldn’t have sold them.”52 He said that the police numbered about ten, and some wore uniforms.

Al-Muslih said that he did not know the names of those who took his son. It was now more than two months since they had taken him, and the family has heard no news about his whereabouts or why he remains in custody. His son wore a beard, he said, and was “very religious.” He said that Ahmad had not had any previous encounters with law enforcement officials.

Muhammad al-Azraq, forty-four, teacher

Mustafa, the brother of Muhammad al-Azraq, told Human Rights Watch that on October 26, Muhammad went to a small mosque in al-`Arish, where he led a group of two other men in the sunset prayer. According to Mustafa al-Azraq, he had been told that the police took Muhammad from there when the prayer concluded. “I asked about him, but there was no news,” Mustafa said.

Then a soldier contacted me to bring him a change of clothes, and we knew he had been in al-`Arish SSI headquarters for ten days. I had gone there every day and they told me all the time they didn’t know where he was when he was inside the whole time.53

Mustafa said that they later learned from former detainees that Muhammad had been transferred to the Central Security camp in Port Said. Mustafa said that as far as he knew Muhammad had not been subjected to torture. Mustafa said that the SSI had called Muhammad in about four years earlier “because he was bearded” in order “to get to know him,” but that otherwise Muhammad had no other previous run-in with law enforcement or security officials.

Ashraf Muhammad Mahmud Ahmad, thirty-three, computer programmer

Ashraf Muhammad Mahmud Ahmad’s wife, Suzan Ibrahim, told Human Rights Watch that security forces came for her husband at their home in al-`Arish at about 2 a.m. on the morning of the 6th of Ramadan (October 21).  Their children (aged three and one-and-a-half) were also there at the time. “We were asleep, and we heard a knock on the door. As Ashraf got up to check, it became stronger, and they broke through the door.”54 Some of the ten or so security officials wore plainclothes. “They were from SSI,” she said.

They asked if he was Ashraf and when he said yes they told him to get dressed and come with them. They searched the house. I asked why and they said they just needed to ask him a few questions and he would be right back. They took his computer and some computer games. No books. He asked if he could go to the toilet, and they said no, you can go where we take you. His father went the next day, Friday, with some clothes and food, which they accepted. He went again the next day, and they said he was transferred. Nobody has seen him since.

Suzan Ibrahim said her husband had no earlier run-ins with security or law enforcement forces. “We have no idea where he is,” she said.

Hossam al-Din Salih, twenty-two, stationery store proprietor and teacher

Hossam’s wife, Samah `Abdullah Hamdan, told Human Rights Watch that Hossam is an art faculty graduate and gives English lessons on a part-time basis.

Last Friday [December 3], I heard noise on the balcony. I thought it was the wind banging the door. It was about 2:30 in the morning. Then there was a shout, “Open, woman!” They broke the window. I shouted back, “Wait until I put on my clothes.” I woke Hossam, and he went to the door, which they broke just as he got there. They searched the house and asked me about my brothers.55

One officer told Hossam to put on his clothes and go with them, she said, but another said, “No I want him as he is.”  Samah told Human Rights Watch,

They searched the kitchen and took a kitchen knife and said to [Hossam], “This is what you use in jihad.” He said, “If I did, I would not keep it in the house.” They searched the suitcases that had some merchandise he had bought [for the store] and took it. They said they would bring it back. They told me to put on my clothes and come with them. When they searched the room where we sleep, one of them got on his knees to look under the bed and knelt right on my baby. He stood up when I screamed. They went outside and got into one of the cars, with a private license plate from al-`Arish. The police truck was full of men with beards.

This morning [December 7] they came at 9:30. A policeman told me, ‘The pasha wants to see you tonight at 8:30. If he’s not there you must wait until he comes, even to dawn.’ My neighbor said, ‘Tell the pasha she has a child. She will come when she can.”

Ashraf Muhammad, forty-five, government accountant

`Abd al-Qadir Muhammad, age seventy,  told Human Rights Watch that at dawn on October 21, 2004, security forces raided his brother Ashraf’s home in al-`Arish, where he lived with his wife and six children.56 “They broke into the house and entered the bedroom,” `Abd al-Qadir said. “They took him out and searched the house, and took his computer and books.”57 The security officers were “civilians,” `Abd al-Qadir said, and showed no warrant for Ashraf’s detention.

`Abd al-Qadir said he took food for Ashraf to SSI headquarters for two days after his arrest. “His name was on [their] list,” he said. “Then on the third day they said he’d been transferred and they didn’t know to where. That [October 24] was the last we heard.”

Ashraf was the sole breadwinner in the household, and his wife has had no income since he was detained. `Abd al-Qadir said that the authorities also took two of Ashraf’s colleagues from work into custody, but that he did not know what had happened to them.

`Abd al-Qadir told Human Rights Watch that prior to the early October Taba bombings, the SSI “had been going to [Ashraf] every three months or so, calling him in. So that he understood they were in control.” Two years ago, `Abd al-Qadir said, “they kept him for three or four days and told him to shave his beard.”

Nur Mahmud Rashid, thirty, unemployed  

Nur Mahmud Rashid graduated from al-Azhar University in Cairo with a degree in religious sciences and was looking for work, his mother told Human Rights Watch. She said that security officials came for him on the 23rd of Ramadan (November 7), just after midnight. “Two men came upstairs,” she said, indicating the floor above where she was sitting. “‘We want your son,’ they said, ‘only for five minutes.’ But it’s more than a month and we still can’t find him.”

Nur Mahmud’s wife was also present. “The bell rang and woke us,” she said. “he opened the door. We heard talking but we couldn’t make out the words. He came back and said, ‘It’s the SSI. They want me for five minutes.’” She saw him get into a car with the two men, she said, and she has not heard anything since regarding his whereabouts or condition. “This is haram,” Mahmud’s mother said. “They should go to war against Israel, not against us.”58

Munir Kamel

Munir Kamel, who had a long dark beard and wore a white skullcap (ta’iyya), did not want Human Rights Watch to use his real name. He said he was arrested on the 9th of Ramadan (October 24) and held in al-`Arish’s SSI headquarters for nineteen days. “They called me on the phone, told me to come, so I went,” he told Human Rights Watch.59 He told Human Rights Watch that he saw Nur Mahmud Rashid (see above) the morning he was brought in (November 7), at the dawn prayer. That evening, Munir said, Nur appeared unable to move, and he understood that Nur was being sent “for interrogation” to a detention facility outside al-`Arish,

Munir said that SSI officers had interrogated him three times—on the first, third, and sixteenth days of his detention—in the SSI headquarters in al-`Arish. His interrogators blindfolded him but did not torture him. He said his interrogators asked him what he told people when leading prayers, and whether he agitated politically. The first two interrogations were short, less than half an hour each. The last session lasted well over an hour, but the questions were the same, he said. “‘You are talking about jihad,’ they said to me.”

The authorities offered no explanation for his detention at any point, he said. He did not request a lawyer, he said. “I couldn’t. I knew that was asking for trouble.”

Munir told Human Rights Watch that he had been told by someone he knew in the Ministry of Interior that four persons had died under torture, but said that he did not know of any names.

Farid `Abdullah, twenty-four, supermarket employee

Ahmad `Abdullah, twenty-two, construction worker

Laila Hamad told Human Rights Watch that she awoke to the voices of security forces in her home at about 1:45 a.m. the previous Thursday (December 2).60 On hearing them ask if there were any women there, she put on her clothes and opened the door to her room to find men with automatic weapons in her living room. They did not wear uniforms.  “The officer was sitting where we are now, reading a file on Farid,” she said.

I started praying, “May God hold you accountable.” They said, “Why are you saying this? We’re just taking them for five minutes and will bring them back.” “No,” I said, “the people you take you never bring back.” They knew who they wanted. They had files, and they asked, “Which one of you is Farid `Abdullah?”61

There were no previous encounters with SSI officials, she said, although once Farid had been involved in a fight and dealt with the “normal police.”  A security official then went upstairs with her, and searched her room and that of her daughter, who was not present. “Then they took the boys and left,” she said. “That was six days ago.” She did not know if they were in al-`Arish or had been transferred elsewhere. “Nobody dares to go ask.” She then gave Human Rights Watch permission to inquire about their whereabouts at the SSI office in al-`Arish. Human Rights Watch requested a meeting with Col. `Isam `Amir, of the al-`Arish SSI, but he declined to meet.62

Asad Amin Khairi al-Bik, fifty-two, agricultural engineer

`Abd al-Rahman Asad Amin told Human Rights Watch that security forces detained his father in the early morning hours of the 6th of Ramadan (October 21). He said that five or six police in plainclothes and two in uniform knocked on the door at about 2:30 a.m., and his father opened.

They searched the house but did not indicate what they were looking for. Some of them I knew from seeing them in the market. They told my father, “We want you for five minutes.” Now we have no idea where he is. Three weeks ago somebody who was released from Damanhur said they had seen him there and that his health was OK.63

`Abd al-Rahman said that his father was subsequently laid off from his job, ending his salary to the family. “We told them he is in detention. They asked for evidence that he is in detention.”

Sayyid Hassan Muhammad Hassan, twenty-seven, driver

Salama Hassan Muhammad Hassan, twenty-two, student

The mother of Sayyid and Salama, Yasmin Bayumi Muhammad, told Human Rights Watch that about eight SSI men showed up at their house in the middle of Ramadan. They were armed. “They asked Salama his name,” she said.

They then went to the upper floor and brought Sayyid down. They asked them about the Abu Shita family: “Did you see Hamada? Did you see Isma`il?” One said no, they hadn’t, but the other said they ate with them three days ago but had not seen them since. They took them to al-`Arish, and then we heard nothing from them. One day before the `Id [marking the end of Ramadan], they sent me a letter from Borg al-Arab prison in Alexandria and said I should come urgently. I went to the lawyer, and he got me permission [to visit the prison]. I met with them for about twenty minutes, after waiting there three hours. We gave them food and clothes. They said they had been beaten to confess their relations with the Abu Shita sons. They said they had been transferred there from al-`Arish with about 450 people.64

Muhammad `Abdullah Riba`a, forty-one, proprietor of metal workshop in al-`Arish

Isma`il `Abdullah Riba`a, thirty-five, worked in his brother’s workshop

Ahmad `Abdullah Riba`a, thirty-nine

Muhammad `Abdullah Riba`a is one of the nine persons named in the October 25 statement of Egypt’s Ministry of Interior as implicated in the Taba bombings. Neither of his brothers, Isma`il nor Ahmad, were mentioned as having any connection to the attacks. According to their father, `Abdullah Riba`a Sulaiman `Abdullah, a large number of security vehicles came to their home in al-`Arish at around 10 a.m. on the 7th of Ramadan (October 22). Between ten and twelve of them, some of them wearing hoods, broke into the house, tied Ahmad’s hands behind his back, and forced him to lie face down on the floor. They also apprehended Muhammad. They took Muhammad into custody at that point but not Ahmad.

Two days later, on October 24, security forces apprehended Isma`il at Muhammad’s metal workshop. Several weeks after that, on November 16, they detained Ahmad after he had spoken with a visiting Egyptian human rights delegation.65

The father told Human Rights Watch that he went to the al-`Arish SSI headquarters following the arrests. “I told them, ‘Look who you’ve taken. Who have you left behind? Only the women.’”66 He said that someone who had been released from the al-`Arish SSI headquarters told them that Ahmad had been there for three days before being transferred, but they did not know to where. “We have heard nothing since then. If we go to ask, I’m not sure we’ll come back.” The family had had no encounters with security forces prior to these events, he said. Muhammad, he said, had served in the Egyptian army in a guerrilla unit.

Salim Salman Abu Flaifil

Salah Ahmad Salah Flaifil, thirty-five

Hajj Ahmad is the ranking elder in the village of Maidan, about a thirty-five minute drive southeast of al-`Arish. Two of his sons have been identified by Egypt’s Ministry of Interior as implicated in the attacks. The government said that, based on DNA testing, it concluded that Suleiman Ahmad Salah Flaifil died in the explosion at the Hilton hotel in Taba; the statement said that his brother, Muhammad Ahmad Salah Flaifil, thirty years old, was also involved.67 As of February 8, 2005, it was not publicly known if Muhammad Flaifil was among those killed in clashes with security forces the previous week near the Sinai town of Ras Sudr. .

Hajj Ahmad told Human Rights Watch that on the 5th of Ramadan (October 20) security officials came to the village. The security forces searched his house, saying they were looking for Muhammad. They took Hajj Ahmad, his sons Salah and Salem, and two daughters into custody. The two daughters were released the same day. Hajj Ahmad said that he and his son Salem were released more than three weeks later, on the 30th of Ramadan (November 14).68 After interrogation on the last day in Cairo, Hajj Ahmad said, he returned to his cell to find Salem there but not Salah. When he met with Human Rights Watch on December 8, Hajj Ahmad said that he did not know where Salah was. He has heard that he may be in Abu Za`bal, a prison outside of Cairo.

Since his release at the end of Ramadan, Hajj Ahmad said, he had been taken three or four times in the middle of the night to al-`Arish and held for several days at a time and interrogated. The authorities also took blood samples, he said. Salem was also taken in to SSI headquarters several times, he said, but separately.

Hajj Ahmad said that he was not tortured or ill-treated. He is a member of the ruling National Democratic Party and reputed to be on good terms with Egyptian intelligence.

Hajj Ahmad did not dispute his son Muhammad’s alleged involvement in the Taba attacks. On three occasions prior to the attacks, he said, he had publicly disowned Muhammad “because he broke the tradition.” “Everyone here knew this, including the authorities,” he said. “They knew I was not accountable for him any more.”

The meeting with Hajj Ahmad took place in a large tented shelter extending off of his home, with approximately fifteen other male relatives and village residents present. Following the meeting, one of the other men in attendance told Human Rights Watch that a number of those sitting in on the conversation with Hajj Ahmad had themselves been taken in for questioning, but they did not want to make themselves known and “risk trouble.”

Arbitrary detention under international and Egyptian law

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Egypt is a state party, guarantees that “[n]o one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.”69 Article 9 further mandates that arrested persons be informed at the time of their arrest of the reasons for the arrest and the criminal charges, if any, against them. Arrested persons must be brought “promptly” before a judge or other authorized judicial officer, and have the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court. In addition, victims of unlawful arrest or detention have “an enforceable right to compensation.”70 The purpose of this guarantee is not to prohibit deprivation of liberty altogether, but to obligate the state “to define precisely the cases in which deprivation of liberty is permissible and the procedures to be applied” and to ensure that “the law itself must not be arbitrary” in this regard.71

Egypt’s Constitution also contains guarantees against arbitrary arrest and detention. Article 41 states that “[e]xcept in cases of flagrante delicto no person may be arrested, inspected, detained or his freedom restricted or prevented from free movement except by an order necessitated by investigations and preservation of the security of the society. This order shall be given by the competent judge or the Public Prosecution in accordance with the provision of the law.”72 Article 44 states that “[h]omes shall have their sanctity and they may not be entered or inspected except by a causal judicial warrant prescribed by the law.”73

According to Egyptian defense lawyers consulted by Human Rights Watch, police or SSI can normally hold persons for up to twenty-four hours before they must either release them or obtain a detention order.74 Egypt’s Emergency Law, Law No. 162 of 1958, which the government has renewed every three years without interruption since October 1981, permits arbitrary arrest and renewable fifteen-day periods of detention without trial. Article 3 of the law grants the Ministry of Interior the authority to order the detention of any person without charge on exceedingly broad grounds such as suspicion of endangering public order or security.75 The Ministry of Interior, based on Law 162/1958, issued a series of orders in October 1981 that provide for the detention and imprisonment of persons who in any way abet “anyone against whom there is credible evidence or is under suspicion of any activity that compromises the public security or public order or threatens national unity or social stability….”76 Law 97/1992, known as the Law to Combat Terrorism, provides for detention without referral to the Public Prosecution Office under certain circumstances.77 In addition, the government considers certain parts of the Sinai Peninsula, particularly along the border with Israel and the Gaza Strip, to be of special security concern, with highly restricted access and subject to regulation by military intelligence.78 

The thousands of persons reportedly detained in northern Sinai since October 7, 2004, join an estimated fourteen to fifteen thousand other persons currently being held without trial, some for as long as two decades.79

Persons held for more than twenty-four hours, whether under judicial order or emergency legislation, must be transferred to recognized places of detention for interrogation. Continued detention at SSI offices, whether for interrogation or other purposes, does not meet this requirement.

Article 4 of the ICCPR permits a state to proclaim officially a state of emergency which will allow the government to take measures derogating from some of its obligations under the Covenant. Article 9 is one of those under which derogation is permissible.80  But Article 4 states that such a public emergency must be one “which threatens the life of the nation,” and that derogations are permitted only “to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation.”81 This express reference to the principle of proportionality, writes Manfred Nowak in his authoritative commentary on the ICCPR, means that “[a]s exceptional measures, they may be imposed only for a limited duration and may be extended only when absolutely necessary.”82

To the extent that the campaign of arrests and detention in northern Sinai were carried out pursuant to the Emergency Law, the SSI officials conducting the arrests also acted in violation of that law, insofar as it provides that:

every person arrested or detained according to the previous Article shall be notified in writing immediately concerning the reason for arrest or detention. The person has the right to contact whomever he sees fit and to seek the aid of an attorney. He shall be accorded the same treatment as an administrative detainee. The detainee, and others concerned, may appeal the arrest or detention if thirty days have passed without his release.83

In none of the cases of detention that Human Rights Watch investigated did the arresting authorities indicate the reason(s) for the detention. In many cases, when the person being detained or a relative insisted on knowing the reasons, they were told that the local SSI commander (the “pasha”) merely wished to talk with the individual “for five minutes.” None of those individuals with whom Human Rights Watch spoke who had been detained and released had received any written or verbal justification for their detention. Similarly, the witnesses who described the arrest of their relative to Human Rights Watch also said, without exception, that the authorities showed no warrant and provided no reason for the arrest. Even if some statement of charges was made when detainees were transferred from the SSI office in al-`Arish or Rafah to a recognized prison in Cairo or elsewhere, the days spent in the SSI headquarters, often in unhygienic conditions of overcrowding, represented violations of Egyptian law and Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law.

The systematic failure of the authorities to inform families of the whereabouts of those detained is also a contravention of those international human rights standards that should guide state practice. The Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment states:

Promptly after arrest and after each transfer from one place of detention or imprisonment to another, a detained or imprisoned person shall be entitled to notify or to require the competent authority to notify members of his family or other appropriate persons of his choice of his arrest, detention or imprisonment or of the transfer and of the place where he is kept in custody.84

Principle 16 (4) states, “The competent authority may however delay a notification for a reasonable period where exceptional needs of the investigation so require,” but elsewhere states that such communication “shall not be denied for more than a matter of days.”85

This requirement is also articulated in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.  The Rules provide a basis of consensus for generally accepted principles and practices in the treatment of prisoners. Rule 92 states:

An untried prisoner shall be allowed to inform immediately his family of his detention and shall be given all reasonable facilities for communicating with his family and friends, and for receiving visits from them, subject only to restrictions and supervision as are necessary in the interests of the administration of justice and of the security and good order of the institution.86

[39] Mohsin Bashir, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center lawyer in charge of following these cases, said on January 23, 2005, that the center puts the total number of persons then still in detention in connection with the attacks at 2,400. E-mail communication to Human Rights Watch from Hossam Bahgat, January 23, 2005.

[40] Human Rights Watch interview with Ashraf Ayoub, Cairo, December 4, 2004. Human Rights Watch was unable to speak with anyone present at this meeting who could confirm this account.

[41] Human Rights Watch interview with Shadi `Abd al-Karim, Cairo, December 12, 2004.

[42] Mustafa El-Menshawy, “Rights groups interrogate Taba investigation,” al-Ahram Weekly (English), December 2-8, 2004, p. 3.

[43] Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld on request, Cairo, December 2004. 

[44] E-mail communication to Human Rights Watch from Hossam Bahgat, January 23, 2005.

[45] E-mail communication to Human Rights Watch from Gamal Eid, January 27, 2005.

[46] Mahir Isma`il, “Al-ifraj `an 90 min al-mo`qtali Sina’ [Release of 90 of the Sinai Detainees],” al-Misri al-Yawm, February 5, 2005, p. 1.

[47] This information was conveyed in an e-mail to Human Rights Watch from Hossam Bahgat, January 23, 2005.

[48] Human Rights Watch interview with Mustafa A. (full name withheld on request), Cairo, December 6, 2004.

[49] Sufi practitioners attach great importance to inner spirituality, and to contemplation as opposed to outward forms of ritual observance. It is associated with ascetic and mystic dimensions of Islam. Adherents of Sufism are frequently organized in orders (turuq, sing. tariq) associated with individual “masters” and represent a potential or actual challenge to the spiritual authority of the established `ulama’. Salafi refers to adherents of current revivalist movements dedicated to sweeping away and supplanting the accretions of Islam with the “original” faith and practice of the Prophet Muhammad and his contemporaries (salaf, or predecessor). Salafis are particularly hostile to what they see as the “pagan” and non-Muslim or pre-Islamic practices of Sufis. See for example Malise Ruthven, Islam in the World 2nd edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) and Jonathan P. Berkey, The Formation of Islam (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

[50] At his request, Human Rights Watch is not using the real name of Fathi or his sons.

[51] Human Rights Watch interview with `Inayat Diab `Atwa Yahya, al-`Arish, December 7, 2004.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview with Hajji Sulaiman al-Muslih, al-`Arish, December 7, 2004.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview with Mustafa al-Azraq, al-`Arish, December 7, 2004.

[54] Human Rights Watch interview with Suzan Ibrahim, al-`Arish, December 7, 2004.

[55] Dr. Aida Seif-al-Dawla interview with Samah `Abdullah Hamdan, al-`Arish, December 7, 2004.

[56] `Abd al-Qadir Muhammad requested that Human Rights Watch not publish their real names.

[57] Human Rights Watch interview with `Abd al-Rahman `Abd al-Aziz, al-`Arish, December 7, 2004.

[58] Human Rights Watch interviews with mother and wife of Nur Mahmud Rashid, al-`Arish, December 8, 2004.

[59] Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, al-`Arish, December 8, 2004.

[60] Laila Hamad asked Human Rights Watch not to use her or her sons’ real names.

[61] Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, al-`Arish, December 8, 2004.

[62] Telephone request to Col. `Isam `Amir, December 8, 2004.

[63] Dr. Aida Seif al-Dawla interview with `Abd al-Rahman Asad Amin, al-`Arish, December 8, 2004.

[64] Aida Seif al-Dawla interview with Yasmin Bayumi Muhammad, al-`Arish, December 8, 2004. The SSI had detained a number of brothers from the Abu Shita family.

[65] Ahmad Riba`a told the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights that he was beaten and threatened with weapons by security forces when they came to the family home on October 22 to arrest Muhammad (EOHR, “Arish…random arrests, detention and torture: Stop the tragedy,” Cairo, November 24, 2004., p.5.)

[66] Human Rights Watch interview with `Abdullah Riba`a Sulaiman `Abdullah, al-`Arish, December 7, 2004.  The interview took place at the Riba`a home in al-`Arish, and other family members were present. The EOHR had interviewed the wife and a daughter-in-law of `Abdullah Riba`a Sulaiman `Abdullah in early November (Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, “Arish…random arrests, detention and torture: Stop the tragedy,” Cairo, November 24, 2004., p. 5.)

[67] Statement of the Ministry of Interior, October 25, 2004.

[68] Human Rights Watch interview with Hajj Hamad, al-Maidan, December 8, 2004.

[69] ICCPR, art. 9.

[70] ICCPR, art. 9.

[71] Manfred Nowak, CCPR Commentary (Kehl am Rhein, Strasbourg, and Arlington, VA:: N.P. Engel Publisher, 1993), pp. 160 and 172.

[72] “The Constitution” (Cairo: Middle East Library for Economic Services, November 1998), p. 12.

[73] Ibid, p. 13.

[74]  Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Mohsin Bashir, January 31, 2005; e-mail to Human Rights Watch from Gamal Eid, January 27, 2005.

[75] `Abd al-Mun`im Husni, Mawsu`at Misr li al-Tashri` wa al-Qada’ [Egyptian Encyclopedia of Legislation and Rulings] vol. 6, 1st edition (Cairo: Husni Center for Legal Studies, 1987), pp. 294 – 98 (translated by Human Rights Watch).

[76] Ministry of Interior, Order No. 1 for the year 1981, provided to Human Rights Watch by the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, January 5, 2005, translated by Human Rights Watch. Orders No. 2 and 3 use similar language in describing the duties of mayors and communal leaders.

[77] The official name is Law Amending Some Provisions of the Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, the Law Establishing State Security Courts, the Law on Secrecy of Bank Accounts, and the Law on Weapons and Ammunition.

[78] Presidential order 176/1995, for instance, issued on September 18, 1995, restricts access within 150 meters of the border with Israel and refers violations to military courts.

[79] Human Rights Association for the Assistance of Prisoners, “Detention and Detainees in Egypt 2003,” Cairo, 2003), p. 18. In this annual report for 2003, the HRAAP wrote: “The number of people detained in Egypt under emergency law remains officially undeclared or unknown. An Assistant to the Ministry of the Interior, while attending a U.N. Committee Against Torture session in the fall of 2002, justified government attempts to keep these figures undisclosed by stating that he “can not figure out the number of detainees inside Egyptian prisons as dozens are arrested and others are released daily” (p. 6).

[80] Article 4, paragraph 2, states that no derogations may be made under articles 6 (right to life), 7 (prohibition of torture), 8 (paragraphs 1 and 2 (prohibition of slavery), 11 (prohibition of detention for debt), 15 (prohibition of retroactive criminal laws), 16 (right to recognition as a person before the law), and 18 (freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief).

[81] Article 4, paragraph 1.

[82] Manfred Nowak, CCPR Commentary (Kehl am Rhein, Strasbourg, and Arlington, VA:: N.P. Engel Publisher, 1993), p. 84.  Nowak notes in this regard “a certain tendency on the part of authoritarian regimes to impose the state of emergency permanently, thus making it de facto the normal condition.”

[83] `Abd al-Mun`im Husni, Mawsu`at Misr li al-Tashri` wa al-Qada’ [Egyptian Encyclopedia of Legislation and Rulings] vol. 6, 1st edition (Cairo: Husni Center for Legal Studies, 1987), pp. 289– 99 (translated by Human Rights Watch).

[84] Principle 16(1), Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, adapted by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 43/173 of December 9, 1988.

[85] Ibid., Principle 15.

[86] Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva in 1955, and approved by

the Economic and Social Council by its resolutions 663 C (XXIV) of 31

July 1957 and 2076 (LXII) of 13 May 1977.

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