In a statement issued on April 19, 2006, the Interior Ministry announced that State Security Investigations had detained 22 members of a militant group suspected of planning violent attacks on civilian targets around Cairo. The Interior Ministry said the arrests were part of SSI efforts to contain terrorismin the ministrys words, to abort any move to form terror organizations, proven over the past period to be posing lethal threats, stemming from their spontaneity and randomnessbased on deviant extremist ideas which have nothing to do with the true Islam, and in response to the fallout from international and regional events.
Egyptian Interior Ministry Statement, April 19, 2006 (translated by Human Rights Watch):
After months of monitoring and surveillance, the security services detained a group that included 22 elements from el-Zawya el-Hamra, Tora, Helwan, and Ma'adi, that called itself the Victorious Sect. It was headed by the accused Ahmad Mohamed Ali Gabr (a.k.a. Abu Mussa'ab), with the assistance of the accused Ahmad Mohamed Bassiouni (a.k.a. Abu Bakr el-Masry), adopting a jihadi discourse stemming from salafi takfiri ideas. The information, documents, and interviews with the above-mentioned confirmed their intention to carry out terrorist operations against tourist targets, and natural gas pipes surrounding Greater Cairo, as well as striking at sensitive locations, by booby trapping. [The group was also planning to] target Muslim and Christian religious figures and what they described as irreligious youth in tourist centers. It has also been confirmed that the leaders of the group were gathering details about making explosive materials from elementary substances. The leaders of this group were trying to buy a piece of land in El-Saff neighborhood in Giza, to use it as a center for training and preparation to carry out their operations. . . . [G]roup leaders contacted foreign elements to help them send [the group's] elements to jihad locations abroad. . . . The [police] operations found several computers, CDs, research material, and information on how to manufacture explosive and poisonous substances, in addition to literature by extremist and terror leaders, and phone numbers of foreign elements who were in contact with the accused Ahmad Bassiouni. . . . The Prosecutor is to investigate the case. [List of arrested suspects follows.]
The announcement included a list of 22 men, and photographs of most of the men were released to the Egyptian media.
The Alleged Victorious Sect
The Interior Ministry said the group was called al-Taifa al-Mansura, The Victorious Sect. (This name incidentally is similar to that of an Iraqi insurgent group, Jaish al-Taifa al-Mansura, Army of the Victorious Sect.)
On April 24, five days after the Interior Ministry announcement, the triple bombing attack occurred in the town of Dahab, on the Red Sea in the Sinai Peninsula, killing at least 18 people.24 The attacks were the first bombings targeting civilians to occur in Egypt since July 2005, when a bombing occurred in Sharm el-Sheikh. (As noted above, a bombing also occurred in the Red Sea city of Taba, a nearby resort, in October 2004.)
In the following weeks, the Victorious Sect arrests and the Dahab bombings were discussed and analyzed in articles by some organizations focused on terrorism issues, including the US-based Jamestown Foundation and the Israel-based International Institute for Counter-Terrorism.25 Commentators analyzed the allegations made in the Interior Ministry statement and drew various broad conclusions about the implications of the arrests. For instance, the Jamestown Foundation discussed the significance of the arrests and the characteristics of the suspects in its April 25 Terrorism Focus newsletter, stating that:
The Egyptian Interior Ministry announced the arrests of the 22 menthe alleged Victorious Secton April 19, 2006. The phrasing of the announcement, and statements made to journalists in Cairo that day, suggested the arrests had just occurred, possibly earlier that day or week.
Human Rights Watch found that the men were actually arrested weeks earlier, at various dates in February and early March 2006 and held incommunicado. Human Rights Watch spoke with several detainees family members about these arrests, and obtained written and video statements that family members made in April and May 2006, in which they described the arrests and their subsequent efforts to find out what happened to the detaineesall of which took place well before the April 19 announcements.
Ahmed Ali Gabr
Among the first of the 22 men to be arrested was Ahmed Ali Gabr, 27, a student at Banha University who was picked up by SSI on February 16, 2006. (In the April 2006 announcement, Gabr was referred to as the leader of the group.) Hussein Metwalli, a journalist who investigated the arrests in February and March 2006, learned that Gabr was arrested during a general sweep of young men that occurred in February in various neighborhoods in Cairo, including Kozzika, Lebanon Square, Dar El-Salam, Helwan, and El-Zawya El-Hamra.27
Human Rights Watch spoke with two prisoners, L.S. and H.B.F., who were detained in the same prison as Gabr, along with several other of the 22 men, in late 2006. (L.S. and H.B.F. were released from custody in 2007 and spoke with Human Rights Watch in June 2007.) Both said that they spoke to Gabr in detail about his arrest and detention. L.S. told Human Rights Watch that when Gabr was arrested, he had no idea why:
L.S. and H.B.F. said that Gabr, and others among the 22 men, told them that they later guessed that Gabr was picked up after someone elsethe name was unknowngave his name to SSI in early February.29 Another detainee, Yehya Suleiman Ahmad Mohamed, a student at Al-Azhar University, was also arrested the same night.
According to L.S. and H.B.F., Gabr said that at the time of his arrest he was working in a shop with another man named Mohamad Farag. [T]hey knew each other and would spend time together, said L.S. The two men had apparently become friends when Gabr started working in the shop, and they spent some of their free time together. At some point in the year before the arrests, Farag introduced Gabr to another young man named Mohamed Hamdi. (His full name was Mohamed Hamdi Abdel Gawad Ibrahim, and was later among the 22 listed as belonging to the Victorious Sect. Mohamed Hamdi, unlike the other detainees, was from a more affluent part of Cairothe Lebanon Square neighborhood.) Gabr told the other prisoners that the three of them were all religiously devout, spent time together socially, and met on a few occasions in a larger theology discussion group.30
Gabr told L.S. and H.B.F. that when he was arrested, SSI officers took his phone and papers from his house. Gabr told the two men that SSI officers consulted his mobile phone directory and found Mohamad Hamdis name, and that they questioned him about Hamdi. (Mohamed Hamdi was arrested over a week later, on March 1.)
Mohamad Farag was arrested soon after Gabr. The detainees speculated that Farags arrest then led to further arrests, as SSI found contact information for other youth in Farags possession. Later discussing the events leading to their detention, both L.S. and H.B.F. said they believed that SSI had found a list of names in Farags house, and that the list contained the names of many of the other 22 men who were ultimately accused of involvement in the Victorious Sect, as well as other people arrested around the same time.31 The prisoners posited that SSI consulted this list in deciding whom to arrest, and that the discovery of the list led to the arrests of several other suspects in the El-Zawya el-Hamra neighborhood on the nights of March 1-3, 2006, including Mohamed Nasr Ibrahim Awad, 26; Taha Hussein Sa'ad Mohamed Ali, 29; and two brothers: Mahmoud Salah Ibrahim Imam, 23, and Mohamed Salah Ibrahim Imam, 24.32 Human Rights Watch also determined that another detainee, Mohamed Ahmad Mohamed Sa'id, 27, was arrested on March 1, 2006, in the Kozzika neighborhood. (Strangely, Mohamed Farag himself was not included in the list of the 22 men called the Victorious Sect.) As of this writing, however, he was still in SSI custody.
Mahmoud and Mohamed Salah Ibrahim Imam
Mahmoud and Mohamed, mentioned above, were arrested on March 2. Mahmoud and Mohameds father, Salah Ibrahim, described the two mens arrests in an interview in April 2006, stating that SSI officers arrived at 2 a.m. on March 2:
SSI forces searched Mahmoud and Mohammads room, taking their identification papers. Salah Ibrahim said that the officers then took Mahmoud to the shop where Mohamed worked. Mohamed, however, was not at the shop when they arrived, and they soon returned to their house. Salah Ibrahim explained:
The officers searched the apartment again and waited inside and outside until past 4 a.m., when they finally left.
Mohamed returned home the next morning, unaware of what was going on. The family then decided that Mohamed would go to the SSI office in Hadayeq el-Qobba to turn himself in. But oddly, when they took Mohamed there, the officersapparently confusedtold them Mohamed was not wanted.
Mohamed and his uncle returned home, but the family decided they should return to the SSI office again, for fear that SSI would raid the house again. When they returned to the Hadayeq el-Qobba facility, Mohamed was taken into custody. His father described what happened next:
Mohamed Nasr Ibrahim Awad
As noted above, Mohamed Nasr Ibrahim Awad, who worked in the same shop as Mohamed Salah, was also arrested the early morning of March 2. His father Ibrahim Awad described how SSI officers arrived after 2 a.m.:
Mohameds brother Tarek confirmed this account: They only found some booklets of azkar [prayers or religious devotions].36 Both Tarek and his father Ibrahim Awad said the SSI officer appeared disappointed, as the books were merely typical booklets with simple prayers.37 Tarek also confirmed that when SSI arrived, they were primarily looking for Mohamed Salah, not Mohamed Nasr, and appeared to be fishing for general information without clearly knowing what they were after:
Mohamed Nasrs family said that SSI officers left with Mohamed, and that he then essentially disappeared; the family heard nothing from authorities for almost two months, when the April 19 announcement of the arrests was made. Tarek and other family members went to the Hadayeq el-Qobba SSI bureau multiple times to ask about his fate, but SSI officials told them that Mohamed Nasr and other detainees were not there, but in the Lazoghli SSI headquarters. But when we went to Lazoghli, Mohameds father said, They said they were in Hadayeq el-Qobba, and so on.39 The family also said that a friend of Mohamed Nasrs was also arrested the same night as he was: Mahmoud Sa'adi Ahmad Mohamed.
Zakariya Noshi Nosran, a Coptic Christian neighbor of Mohamed and his family, was surprised by the arrests. He told attorneys that he did not think it was possible that Mohamed or the others could be involved in any plot:
Emad Ezzat Labib, another Coptic Christian neighbor, who owns a bag-making workshop near Mohamed Nasrs home and is a friend of Mohamed Nasrs father, told attorneys and journalists in April 2006 that he thought the allegations against Mohamed were fabricated. Labib said he was surprised that Mohamed was among those arrested.
The Interior Ministrys statement about the Victorious Sect said the arrests took place after months of monitoring and surveillance. However, the manner in which many of the men were arrested suggested that SSI had little knowledge of who the men were before their arrests. For instance, when officers came to arrest the detainee Mohamed Salah Ibrahim Imam at his home (see above), he wasnt there; officers were unaware of where he worked and only visited the store where was employed after his family told them where it was. Mohamed Nasr Ibrahim Awad, another man who also worked at the store, appears to have been arrested solely because he was at the store when SSI arrived. Also, more notably, when Mohamed Salah, the day after Mohamed Nasrs arrest, tried to turn himself in at a SSI facility, officers turned him away, and only detained him later, when he returned to the facility a second time.
In June 2006, Mohamed Nasr and his friend Mahmoud Saadi were released from SSI detention. Human Rights Watch approached them in June 2007, but they did not wish to speak to us about their experiences.
Taha Hussein Saad
Taha Hussein Saad was arrested on March 2 at his father's house in El-Zawya el-Hamra.41 Tahas father said SSI showed up at 5 a.m.:
Tahas mother said that when Tahas uncle, who lived in another apartment in the same building, opened his door to see what was going on, SSI officers warned him to get inside again, telling him well take you with us.
Tahas father said:
Asked by attorneys why the family didnt take any public action after the arrest, Tahas father said:
Taha was later released, in mid-2006, but after his release, neither he nor his family would discuss his arrest or detention in any detail. Taha told Human Rights Watch:
Ahmad Mohamed Bassiouni and other detainees
Just before SSI detained Ahmad Ali Gabr, Mohamed Farag, Mohamed Hamdi, and the other detainees noted above, another set of arrests occurred in the Cairo neighborhoods of Kozzika, El-Zawya El-Hamra, and Tora el-Balad, during the last week of February.
Around February 24 to 26, SSI officers arrested Ahmad Mohamed Bassiouni, a young imam from El-Zawya el-Hamra, later accused of being the second-in-command of the Victorious Sect; as well as Hani Ahmad Mansour Mohamed, a young salesman; and Abdel Aziz Fouad Ali Abdel Maqsoud, an engineering student; among other detainees.
Bassiouni was arrested on February 24. I.K.B., a family member, told attorneys that SSI went to Bassiounis mothers house first (his father passed away years ago):
Hussein Metwalli, the journalist who investigated the arrests in April 2006, spoke with Bassiounis wife after the April 2006 announcements. According to Metwalli, she confirmed I.K.B.s account of the arrest and said she had received no word of her husband for several weeks after the arrest, and that she was very anxious: She used to call me a lot after the arrests to find out if Id heard anything.44
As noted above, Hani Ahmad Mansour Mohamed was arrested the same day as Bassiouni. Hanis family said that Hani was arrested at 4 a.m. on February 24, and that SSI agents took him out of their house in his underwear:
Hanis parents had no idea where their son was taken and didnt hear anything about his fate for almost two months:
Hani was among the few detainees released in the summer of 2006. When Human Rights Watch approached Hani in June 2007, helike Taha, the former detainee mentioned abovewas unwilling to discuss his experience in any detail:
Hussein Metwalli, the journalist who investigated the arrests in 2006, spoke with Hani when he was released in mid-2006. Metwalli said that Hani was afraid to talk openly and reluctant to discuss the details of his detention; however, he did provide details about his mistreatment in detention (see next section for more detail).
The Remaining Detainees
Other young men were arrested around the same time in the Cairo neighborhoods of Kozzika, El-Zawya El-Hamra, and Tora el-Balad. Besides the 12 men whose arrests are described above, Human Rights Watch was told by families and attorneys that several dozen other men were arrested in these neighborhoods. These include ten who were among the 22 men whose arrest was later announced on April 19, 2006, and numerous others whose names were not on the list. Human Rights Watch was unable to determine the exact date of arrest of most of the ten other men on the list of 22. The family of one these men, Mohamed Abdallah Bakri Mabrouk Hassanein, 23, said he was detained on March 21, 2006. The family of another, Nabil Mohamed Mohamed Ali Mustafa, 21, said he was taken into custody on March 2, 2006. However, for the eight others, family attorneys were only able to provide approximate arrest dates. The eight other men were:
Speaking with Detainees and Families: A Culture of Fear
Human Rights Watch made extensive efforts to speak with families of the 22 detainees in June and July 2007, to learn about the arrests and the families communications with the detainees.
The majority of parents we reached were unwilling to speak in detail with Human Rights Watch out of fear that it could lead to retaliation against their children or harm their chances of release. Several family members flatly refused to speak, while others said they wanted to complain about their childrens detention and alleged mistreatment, but not while their children were still in custody. For instance, S.B., the mother of one of the detainees, told Human Rights Watch:
Said Shehata, an attorney for several detainees, explained why families were unwilling to speak with Human Rights Watch:
Ayman Okail, another attorney who represented several of the 22 detainees in 2006, told Human Rights Watch that detainees families told him about threats and intimidation from SSI officers:
Okail said that parents would often stop talking to attorneys after SSI talked to them: One day the parents would want our help, he explained. The next day they would yell at us, telling us were making trouble.
Adel Mekki, another attorney familiar with SSI practices and with extensive experience representing SSI detainees, said that when Egyptians are arrested by SSI, their families generally are afraid to seek help or publicize their concerns:
A.K.M., a human rights lawyer who works with families who have had relatives detained by SSI, agreed: People are very scared, all the time. Fear has become normal.52
Mohamed Hashim, an attorney familiar with SSI practices, added:
Former detainees held with the 22, attorneys for the detainees, and detainees family members have alleged that the men were severely tortured during the first weeks of their detention.
Human Rights Watch faced several obstacles in assessing what happened to the 22 men after their arrests. Besides the reticence of families, who feared that talking publicly would cause problems for their children, the detainees who were released, with one exception, did not want to speak about their experiences, apparently from continuing fear of SSI. In addition, the Egyptian government did not respond to our written requests for information or to meet to discuss the arrests or the events surrounding the purported confessions of the 22 men. (The Egyptian government has never permitted Human Rights Watch to visit Egyptian prisons to speak with detainees or convicted prisoners; repeated requests in recent years to visit Egyptian prisons have received no response.)
Attorneys for the 22 men likewise faced obstacles to speaking with the detainees. None of the men could be visited while in SSI detention in February through May 2006, during the period of their interrogation: it is impossible as a general matter for outside observers or attorneys to visit SSI interrogation facilities. The only opportunity attorneys had to speak with detainees was when the detainees were brought to the State Security prosecution office for hearings at various times in June through September 2006. Even after the detainees were transferred to prisons, several Egyptian attorneys requests were denied or ignored.
Human Rights Watch interviewed or obtained accounts from several men who were detained with the men in late 2006, including L.S. and H.B.F., the two detainees mentioned earlier who were held with most of the 22 detainees in an Interior Ministry prison and who were released in 2007. These sources spoke credibly, with consistency, and in great detail about what they had seen and heard.
Human Rights Watch also interviewed the attorneys for the 22 men, who spoke to the detainees and saw physical evidence of their mistreatment. We also obtained accounts from some family members who were able to speak with their relatives in prison.
Several sources allege that the detainees were tortured during SSI interrogation.
Said Shehata, an attorney for several detainees, saw approximately ten of them when they were brought to the SSI prosecutors office in July through September 2006, and he spoke with six during the proceedings. He told Human Rights Watch what learned about their treatment:
Said Shehata described the case of Mohamed Nasr Ibrahim Awad :
Said Shehata said that Mohamed Nasr and the other detainees were blindfolded for almost all of the time they were held in SSI detention facilities.
Shehata talked to five other detainees separately at the prosecution office, including the alleged leader of the group, Ahmed Ali Gabr. The detainees indicated that they had been tortured, and some of them showed Shehata marks on their wrists and burns from cigarettes:
Shehata said he was able to observe marks on some of the detainees:
Of the detainees, Shehata said that only Mohamed Nasr wanted to tell the prosecutor about abuse:
A.S., one of the attorneys for two other detainees, said that his clients told him about abuse when he spoke with them during hearings at the State Security prosecution office in June and July 2006:
A.S. suspected that the two were subjected to other physical torture, but said I think they were embarrassed to talk about it. In any case, A.S. said that he expected that SSI officers waited until detainees injuries had healed:
Tarek Nasr, the brother of the detainee Mohamed Nasr Ibrahim Awad, told Human Rights Watch that during prison visits he heard allegations of torture from his brother. Tarek said that Mohamed told him about his own torture as well as other detainees mistreatment, which he said took place mostly at Lazoghli, during the first weeks of their captivity:
Tarek said his brother told him that the other detainees were mistreated as well: They were all tortured. What do you expect? No one goes into State Security without at least a slap. Tarek listed some of the allegations his brother told him:
L.S., the former detainee who was held at various facilities with most of the 22 men, confirmed these claims, telling Human Rights Watch about various abuses he heard about from the detainees, as well as about abuse he witnessed while he was held at the Gaber Ibn Hayan SSI facility in Giza, where some of the detainees were taken in March 2006. L.S.s descriptions of SSI detention were consistent with other detainees and attorneys accounts and Human Rights Watch considers his information to be credible and balanced. L.S. said that 25 detainees arrived a few days after he did, and that he later learned, from taking to some of those detainees, that most of the 25 were later named as members of the Victorious Sect.59 L.S. explained:
L.S. said that SSI officers were more interested in the 25 detainees than they were in him or other detainees. Since his cell was close to the room in which interrogations occurred, L.S. could hear many of the 25 being interrogated and heard them screaming:
L.S. said he was unaware of the identity of the detainees: I didnt know who the guys were, at that point, but that he met many of them in late 2006, when the remaining Victorious Sect detainees were brought to Damanhour prison, where L.S. himself was earlier transferred in mid-2006. When they arrived, they described not only their torture at Giza, which L.S. heard, but also mistreatment at Lazoghli and Nasr City:
L.S. said he heard earlier about abuses that were taking place in the Lazoghli facility during his initial detention in March 2006. While detained in another facility for a brief period before he was sent to Damanhour, L.S. said he saw and spoke with Mohamed Farag, one of the detainees arrested with some of the other 22 men, who was detained at the Lazoghli facility. (As noted in the proceeding section, Mohamed Farag worked in a store with Ahmed Ali Gabr, and although he was not among the 22 Victorious Sect detainees whose detention was announced in April 2006, he was arrested around the same time as Gabr and other detainees.)
According to L.S., when Farag arrived, he said he had just been at the Lazoghli facility with other detainees, and he showed signs of having been badly tortured:
H.B.F., another SSI detainee held at Damanhour in late 2006 and quoted earlier in this reprort, told Human Rights Watch that he, like L.S., was held in Damanhour in late 2006. There he saw most of the Victorious Sect detainees and spoke with many of them. He spoke in depth to four in particular: Ahmed Ali Gabr, Abdel Aziz Fouad Ali Abdel Maqsoud, Omar Mohamed Abdel Fattah Ahmad, and Mohamed Hamdi Abdel Gawad Ibrahim.61 H.B.F.s accounts were consistent with those of L.S. and other general accounts of SSI detention, and appeared to be balanced and credible.
H.B.F. said that all four detainees told him about mistreatment they suffered while in SSI detention.
H.B.F. said that Ahmed Ali Gabr and Abdel Aziz told him of being stripped, handcuffed, hung up by their arms, and beaten and electrocuted; Omar Mohamed and Mohamed Hamdi said the same. Ahmed Ali Gabr, Omar, and Abdel Aziz told H.B.F. the torture started at the SSI office in Maadi, in southern Cairo, where many of the detainees were taken initially after their arrests.
H.B.F said that Ahmed Ali Gabr told him about being beaten:
Later, Ahmed Ali Gabr told H.B.F. he was taken to the Lazoghli SSI facility and then to the facility at Nasr City. H.B.F. explained:
H.B.F. said that Ahmed Ali Gabr and the others described to him severe electroshock torture they endured at the Nasr City facility.
Generally, Ahmed Ali Gabr told him, there were two types of shock, a less severe form of shock for when a detainee was suspended in the air, and a more severe type of shock for when a detainee was pinned to the ground. Ahmed Ali Gabr told H.B.F. that being shocked while pinned on the ground was far worse:
L.S., the first detainee quoted earlier, also spoke with Ahmed Ali Gabr. I talked to Ahmed Ali Gabr a lot, L.S. said. We shared a cell together for a while. L.S. told Human Rights Watch that Gabr and the other detainees provided him with details about their abuse in Lazoghli and Nasr City, and the account he gave us was similar to that given by H.B.F. above.
Hussein Metwalli, the journalist who spoke with Hani Ahmad Mansour Mohamed, one of the released detainees, and with many of the relatives who visited the detainees in prison, said Hani Mansour confirmed to him, just after his release in 2006, that he was tortured while in SSI custody, but said he was unwilling to talk about it in any detail.64
Metwalli also spoke with another Victorious Sect detainee who was released from custody around October 2007. (The detainees name is deleted here at his request, to protect his security.)
The detainee, who was held with most of the 22 others after their arrests in February and March 2006, said that after his arrest he was gathered with other detainees and that SSI transferred us to Lazoghli for a taste of systematic torture.65
The detainee told Metwalli that we were beaten up with fists and sticks, and kicked around. The detainee said that SSI used electricity on different parts of the body, including sensitive areas. . . . These sessions of torture were held mainly prior to the announcement of the organization on TV. The detainee added that another Victorious Sect detainee held with him falsely admitted that he was a terrorist immediately after he was shocked with electricity to his penis. The detainee stated that neither he nor the other detainees had any involvement with illegal activities; but said that torture and ill treatment had impacted their appearance and made them look suspicious in pictures that were released to the media:
The detainees allegations are consistent with other information gathered about the arrests and detention of the 22 detainees.
Former detainees and attorneys told Human Rights Watch that several Victorious Sect detainees confessed while under torture. L.S., one of the detainees later held with the detainees at Damanhour, said:
The detainees told L.S. that SSI officers planted the allegations themselves: They were fabricating it all, telling them, You have land for training, and You have a plot to blow up the pipelines outside Cairo, and so on.
H.B.F., who spoke with the detainees at length, explained in more detail:
H.B.F. said that detainees would sometimes admit to acts that even the SSI officers would find absurd or unlikely. For instance, H.B.F. said, Abdel Azizwho was short, skinny, and not very muscularsaid that he told H.B.F. that he admitted to being the groups head of physical training, and that SSI officers laughed among themselves after they coerced him to admit this.
H.B.F. said that Ahmed Ali Gabr recounted a similar story, saying that he could not properly fill in the details about his supposed plot:
The detainees also told H.B.F about how SSI pressed them to confess to the plots that ultimately comprised the allegations made in the April 2006 Interior Ministry statement:
L.S. said that Ahmed Ali Gabr told him that SSI actually invented the name Victorious Sect:
H.B.F. told Human Rights Watch that Ahmed Ali Gabr described the same incident to him, adding that when he first balked at choosing the name, SSI officers said to him, in an ironically polite manner like: No, no, noyou choose from these names; that will be the name we will give your case. . . . So, in order to just to finish up or whatever, he chose the Victorious Sect name.71
The Effects of Torture: Ahmed Ali Gabrs Breakdown
L.S. and H.B.F. both said that, having spoken with many of the detainees, they believed that Ahmed Ali Gabr was tortured more than the other detainees. The two surmised that SSI officers either tortured him extensively hoping to make him admit to being the leader of the group, or they tortured him for longer periods because, under torture, he was more prodigious in admitting to the plots that the officers suggested.
Both L.S. and H.B.F. say they spoke in detail with Ahmed Ali Gabr about how the torture affected his psychological well-being. L.S. and H.B.F. said that Gabr had a nervous breakdown when he was brought to the State Security prosecution office, after months of torture. H.B.F. described what Ahmed Ali Gabr told him:
Ahmed Ali Gabr told both H.B.F. and L.S. that he was so upset that he started talking to the pigeons outside his window. As L.S. explained:
H.B.F. heard the same account from Ahmed Ali Gabr. As he told Human Rights Watch:
Ahmed told H.B.F. he couldnt listen to everything the officer was saying:
According to HBF, Ahmed learned soon thereafter that SSI was not interested in prosecuting him, and from then on he was not tortured. His mental health improved significantly, he said, and he was able to communicate more normally by late 2006.
Human Rights Watch was unable to determine why, starting in July 2006, the Egyptian Interior Ministry apparently decided not to prosecute the 22 detainees. During hearing after hearing for the detainees at the State Security prosecutors office, from July to September 2006, prosecutors ordered the detainees to be released. By September, all of the 22 detainees had been cleared for release.
Nonetheless, as of December 2007, for reasons that remain unclear, only 12 detainees had been released, and 10 remained in detention.
According to attorneys, after the release orders in 2006, the first two detainees to be released were Mohamed Nasr and his friend Mahmoud Saadi. After that, they say, SSIutilizing provisions in the Emergency Lawissued new detention decrees in August and September 2006 for the 20 remaining detainees. Since mid-2006, 10 more detainees have been released, but the SSI has kept another 10 men in prison without presenting them again to prosecutors. As of December 2007, the 10 remaining detainees have been in custody without charge for almost two years.
Several attorneys and observers told Human Rights Watch that they believed that the release orders issued in 2006 attested to the detainees innocence, and that the men remain in detention only because SSI fears the embarrassment that would accompany their release.
Mohamed Zarei, a human rights lawyer familiar with the case, said:
Zarei did not consider it unusual that persons held under the Emergency Law would be detained indefinitely:
Adel Mekki, a human rights researcher familiar with the case, said the same: A release order is only ink and paper. Weve had detainees [as clients] with more than 30 release orders, and it doesnt make any difference. Mekki agreed with Mohamed Zarei and said that SSI officers might be embarrassed because a case was not proceeding and wait a lengthy period of time before allowing the detainees to be released. The UN Committee against Torture has noted that in Egypt many court decisions to release detainees are not enforced in practice.76
It is not clear why the Interior Ministry gave up on their allegations. Attorneys for the detainees suggested to Human Rights Watch that the Interior Ministry may have fabricated the case for publicity and later decided that the detainees prosecution was not necessary, or that, whatever the motives, the case ultimately was simply too contrived even for a court applying Egypts draconian emergency law.
The attorneys noted that no evidence was presented against the detainees beyond their own confessions, which, as shown in the preceding section, were likely the result of torture. Said Shehata, for instance, an attorney for several detainees, argued that the allegations made against the detainees were without detail or substantiation:
Yet the fact that prosecutors ordered the detainees release came as a surprise to some of the attorneys for the detainees. Said Shehata, though he concluded that the case was fabricated, said he was surprised that the Interior Ministry ordered the detainees released:
Adel Mekki agreed that the release orders were a strange turn of events: the seriousness of the charges led him to expect the men would be prosecuted, even if the allegations were fabricated:
Adel Mekki and other attorneys said that there were limits to how far fabricated charges based on confessions could be pursued:
Ahmad Saif al-Islam, a prominent attorney who deals with SSI detainees, told Human Rights Watch why he thought State Security prosecutors had ordered the detainees released:
Mohamed Zarei made a similar point:
Ayman Okail, an attorney for some of the men, agreed:
The Timing: A Connection to Egypts Emergency Law?
Certain observers who spoke with Human Rights Watchincluding attorneys, human rights researchers, and political activistssaid that they believed the announcement of the Victorious Sect arrests was connected to the renewal of Egypts Emergency Law in late April 2006.
This claim is difficult to assess, and the Egyptian government has not responded to requests for information from Human Rights Watch about the case. But the claim does provide one possible explanation for the timing of the arrests.
The announcement of the arrests came 11 days before President Hosni Mubarak renewed Egypts repressive Emergency Law (Law No. 162 of 1958), which has been in effect without interruption since October 1981. Several critics of the government suggested that the governments renewal of the Emergency Law (in September 2005, Mubarak had promised that he would allow it to expire) was facilitated in part by the heightened sense of insecurity brought on by the April 19 announcement of the Victorious Sect arrests and the April 24 bombings.
Specifically, observers suggested that SSI may have fabricated the Victorious Sect case just before the existing law was set to expire, to make it easier for the government to justify the laws renewal. When actual bombing attacks took place in Dahab on April 24, 2006, these observers argued, the fabricated case was no longer needed and the prosecution office was then allowed by the Interior Ministry to order the mens release. Attorneys suggest that authorities then arranged to have new detention decrees issued for the men, so they would remain in custody until media and other observers forgot about the original allegations. (Under Egypts Emergency Law, SSI can issue unlimited detention decrees to hold detainees in prison, and release orders are routinely ignored.)
Said Shehata, one of the detainees attorneys, told Human Rights Watch:
Several other detainees attorneys made the same argument to Human Rights Watch. Mohamed Zarei, the human rights attorney, agreed with the detainees attorneys, and said that the authorities used the youth who were arrested because they were involved in conservative religious study, which would make it easier to portray them as extremists:
Mohamed Hashim, an attorney familiar with SSI detention practices, agreed with these arguments and also suggested that SSI manufactured the allegations because the young men were more religiously devout than most Cairo youth:
Hashim argued that the something in this case was the young mens conservatism, and also suggested that the arrests were connected to the Emergency Law renewal. He explained:
Not all the observers whom Human Rights Watch spoke with agreed that the arrests were motivated solely by the renewal of the Emergency Law. Adel Mekki suggested the arrests were simply part of an effort by SSI to make itself look useful and important:
Diaa Rashwan, a commentator on terrorism issues for al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies who followed the case, suggested a more basic motivation for the arrests:
The arrests, Rashwan said, also revealed a central flaw in Egypts domestic counter-terrorism strategy:
And yet, if you analyze what they do, there is nothing. All we have is arrests, not prosecutions. A lot of the so-called plots they disrupt are simply made up. All the time, they are trying to discover plots, they are searching, trying to find conspiraciesthough they rarely find anything. Its their methodology: they make arrests. They are inclined toward arresting people, as opposed to gathering intelligence and information. They could, instead of making random arrests, put a priority on facilitating better intelligence-gathering, but they dont. They have a culture and a habit of heavy-handedness.88
24 Initial reports indicated that 23 were killed in the blasts, but authorities soon lowered the number to 18. See Daniel Williams, Egyptians Face Grim Task of Bomb Cleanup, Washington Post, April 26, 2006.
25 Murad Al-shishani, Egypt Breaks-up al-Ta'efa al-Mansoura Jihadist Group, Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Focus, Volume 3, Issue 16, April 25, 2006, available at http://jamestown.org/terrorism/news/article.php?articleid=2369971 (accessed July 15, 2007); Ely Karmon, Egypt as a New Front of al-Qaeda, International Institute for Counter-terrorism, May 5, 2006, available at http://www.ict.org.il/apage/5179.php (accessed July 15, 2007).
26 See Murad Al-shishani, Egypt Breaks-up al-Ta'efa al-Mansoura Jihadist Group.
27 Human Rights Watch interview with Hussein Metwalli, journalist who interviewed families and released detainees, Cairo, June 13, 2007. Metwalli spoke with family members of Gabrs and relatives of other detainees, and heard about the arrests from neighbors and other witnesses. He told Human Rights Watch that he believed Gabr was picked up because someone else gave his name to State Security, for unknown reasons.
28 Human Rights Watch interview with L.S., former State Security detainee, Cairo July 11, 2007.
29 Ibid. This is consistent with the conclusion reached by the journalist Hussein Metwalli, who spoke with numerous witnesses from the neighborhood in which the arrests took place.
30 Human Rights Watch interview with L.S., former SSI detainee, Cairo July 11, 2007; and Human Rights Watch interview with H.B.F., former SSI detainee, Cairo, July 13, 2007.
31 According to the two released prisoners, it was a list for a competition or quiz game that was hosted at Farags house, in which the men on the list were asked factual questions about Islamic verses and theology. The prisoners said this event took place during a birthday party for Farag that had taken place a few weeks before. Human Rights Watch interview with L.S., former State Security detainee, Cairo July 11, 2007; and Human Rights Watch interview with H.B.F., former State Security detainee, Cairo, July 13, 2007.
32 Details about the arrests of these four detainees is taken from a Human Rights Watch interview with the family of Mohamed Nasr Ibrahim Awad, Cairo, June 20, 2007; transcript of an attorney interview of the family of Mohamed Nasr, Cairo, April 21, 2006 (on file with Human Rights Watch); Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Taha Hussein Sa'ad Mohamed Ali, June 2007; transcript of an attorney interview with the family of Taha Hussein Sa'ad Mohamed Ali, late April 2006; transcript of an attorney interview with the parents of Mahmoud Salah Ibrahim Imam and Mohamed Salah Ibrahim Imam, Cairo, late April 2006.
33 This and the following accounts of Mahmoud and Mohameds arrests are contained in a transcript of an attorney interview with the parents of Mahmoud Salah Ibrahim Imam and Mohamed Salah Ibrahim Imam Mohamed, Cairo, late April 2006.
34 Referring to Mohamed Nasr Ibrahim Awad, one of the 22 men on the list provided by State Security on April 19, 2006.
35 Transcript of an attorney interview of the Ibrahim Awad, father of Mohamed Nasr, Cairo, April 21, 2006 (on file with Human Rights Watch).
36 Human Rights Watch interview with Tarek Nasr, Mohamed Nasrs brother, Cairo, June 20, 2007.
37 Human Rights Watch interview with Tarek Nasr, June 20, 2007. Tarek said that the officer said, What is this Mohamed? These are kindergarten books. Mohamed told him, These are the only things we have here.
38 Human Rights Watch interview with Tarek Nasr, June 20, 2007.
39 Transcript of an attorney interview with Ibrahim Awad, April 21, 2006.
40 Transcript of a video interview with Emad Ezzat Labib, Cairo, April 2006 (on file with Human Rights Watch).
41 The accounts provided here about the arrest of Taha Hussein Sa'ad are based on the transcripts of two attorney interviews with Tahas parents, Cairo, late April 2006.
42 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Taha Hussein Sa'ad, June 6, 2007.
43 Transcript of attorney interview with I.K.B., family member of Ahmad Mohamed Bassiouni, Cairo, late April 2006 (on file with Human Rights Watch).
44 Human Rights Watch interview with Hussein Metwalli, Egyptian journalist who investigated the arrests, Cairo, June 13, 2007. Metwalli told Human Rights Watch that he believed the allegations against Ahmad Bassiouni and the other detainees were not credible, and that SSI appeared to have fabricated the details. According to Metwalli, Mrs. Bassiouni also denied that her husband could possibly be involved with the supposed plots announced on April 19; and another family member said the same: [He] is a very straight man and is not related to any of the alleged things. Transcript of attorney interview with I.K.B., family member of Ahmad Mohamed Bassiouni, Cairo, late April 2006 (on file with Human Rights Watch).
45 The accounts provided here about the arrest of Hani Ahmad Mansour Mohamed are based on the transcripts of attorney interviews with Hanis parents, Cairo, late April 2006 (on file with Human Rights Watch).
46 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Hani Ahmad Mansour Mohamed, June 6, 2007.
47 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with S.B., mother of a detainee, Cairo, June 6, 2007.
48 Human Rights Watch interview with Said Shehata, attorney for multiple detainees, Cairo, June 11, 2007.
49 Human Rights Watch interview with Ayman Okail, attorney and director of Maat, an NGO that represented several of the 22 detainees in 2006, Cairo, June 12, 2007.
51 Human Rights Watch interview with Adel Mekki, an attorney familiar with State Security practices, Cairo, June 13, 2007.
52 Human Rights Watch interview with A.K.M., human rights researcher, Cairo, June 11, 2007.
53 Human Rights Watch interview with Mohamed Hashim, political opposition leader familiar with State Security detention practices, Cairo, June 12, 2007.
54 Human Rights Watch interviews with Said Shehata, attorney for multiple detainees, Cairo, July 9 and 11, 2007. Shehata told Human Rights Watch that in his experience representing SSI detainees, it was rare for detainees to be taken before a prosecutor while they were still suffering injuries or effects of mistreatment; most were brought to the prosecution office later: State Security usually waits until wounds are healed before bringing detainees before the prosecutor. And anyway, even if there are marks, the forensic experts will usually write down that they are marks of an old wound.
55 Human Rights Watch interview with Said Shehata, attorney for multiple detainees, Cairo, July 9, 2007.
56 Human Rights Watch interview with A.S., attorney for two detainees, Cairo, July 13, 2007.
57 Human Rights Watch interview with Tarek Nasr, Mohamed Nasrs brother, Cairo, June 20, 2007.
59 The descriptions from L.S. provide here are based on a Human Rights Watch interview with L.S., former detainee of State Security, Cairo July 11, 2007.
60 L.S. also told Human Rights Watch that another prisoner held with him in Damanhour, who remained in prison as of August 2007, was transferred to Lazoghli and back again during March 2006 (presumably for interrogation), and saw many of the same prisoners before they were sent to Damanhour: He heard them being tortured, and saw them and their wounds, including one guy who near him, who was so badly tortured, with electricity and beatings, he was helping him clean his wounds with some water. Later, the guys showed up in the prison and this guy was there too, and they were reunited.
61 Human Rights Watch interview with H.B.F., former State Security detainee, Cairo, July 13, 2007. H.B.F. said that some detainees said little about their torture: Some people dont really get into details about their torture, for no reason other that its so common. Nobody is going to tell you I got electrocuted! because I myself got electrocuted too and I dont want to hear others telling me about their electrocution. And why talk about the blindfold? Everybody gets blindfolded. In any case, H.B.F. did talk in detail to the four detainees noted above about their mistreatment, and they did provide details.
64 Human Rights Watch interview with Hussein Metwalli, journalist who interviewed families and released detainees, Cairo, June 13, 2007. The last phrase is a translation of an Egyptian Arabic idiom that literally means: I must not only walk along the wall, but inside the wall.
65 The accounts provided here are based on an interview conducted by Hussein Metwalli with a released SSI detainee, Cairo, November 2007.
66 Human Rights Watch interview with L.S., former State Security detainee, Cairo July 11, 2007.
67 Human Rights Watch interview with H.B.F., former State Security detainee, Cairo, July 13, 2007. H.B.F., who suffered his own mistreatment while in custody, during unrelated interrogation, also told Human Rights Watch: I just want to say something quickly about the psychology itself of the interrogation process. When you are being tortured, you reach a state that youve said all the facts, basically, but the torture doesnt stop so you reach the conclusion that he [the State Security officer] wants you to say what the interrogator wants to hear, so you start saying what the interrogator wants to hear. So you fall actually into that trap. And sometimes you even elaborate even more than the guy wants to hear. So this extra information that you gave him, this means that he will torture you more to get even more extra information and will torture the others in order to complete the new plot now.
70 Human Rights Watch interview with L.S., former State Security detainee, Cairo July 11, 2007.
71 Human Rights Watch interview with H.B.F., former State Security detainee, Cairo, July 13, 2007.
72 Human Rights Watch interview with L.S., former State Security detainee, Cairo July 11, 2007.
73 Human Rights Watch interview with H.B.F., former State Security detainee, Cairo, July 13, 2007.
74 Human Rights Watch interview with Mohamed Zarei, human rights attorney, Cairo, June 12, 2007.
75 Ibid. Diaa Rashwan, a terrorism expert for al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies who followed the Victorious Sect case, agreed with Zarei, telling Human Rights Watch that he considered the release orders to be a good indication that the case was fabricated. Human Rights Watch interview with Diaa Rashwan, commentator on terrorism issues for al-Ahram, Cairo June 10, 2007. Zarei and Rashwan were not surprised that most of the detainees still remain in custody: both told Human Rights Watch that SSI regularly issues arrest decrees even after prosecutors order detainees to be released.
76 Committee against Torture, Conclusions and Recommendations, Egypt, U.N. Doc. CAT/C/CR/29/4 (2002), para. 5(h).
77 Human Rights Watch interview with Said Shehata, attorney for multiple detainees, Cairo, July 11, 2007. The Waad were a group of almost 100 men, mostly from the greater Cairo area, who were arrested by SSI in 2001 and accused of plotting various crimes; authorities alleged the group was plotting to assassinate security officials, public figures, and bomb he states economic institutions, and that the group was receiving military training, sending members abroad for fighting experience . . . using the internet as a means of coordination between the organizational cells and distributing literature. See Amnesty International, Egypt Systematic abuses in the name of security, AI Index: MDE 12/001/2007, April 11, 2007, p. 27, http://amnesty.org/resources/Egypt/pdf/2007_04_amnesty_international_egypt_report.pdf.
78 Human Rights Watch interview with Adel Mekki, human rights attorney, Cairo, June 12, 2007. Mekki also said: Its not the first time that a group of suspects gets rounded up, only to be granted release orders later. Take, for instance, the case of the Soldiers of Allah, in 2002 [a group of 43 men arrested in 2002 and charged with planning bombing attacks around Cairo]. They were referred to a military court, but the military court ordered the release of the suspects: they looked at the case and decided there was no evidence. Yet despite that, the Interior Ministry did not release them. And were talking here about an exceptional, powerful courtthe most exceptional court in the country. Some were released, but to this day, many are still in detention. This is something normal for State Security, and it applies also to the Victorious Sect case.
79 Human Rights Watch interview with Adel Mekki, human rights attorney, Cairo, June 12, 2007.
80 Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmad Saif al-Islam, attorney, Cairo, June 9, 2007.
81 Human Rights Watch interview with Mohamed Zarei, human rights attorney, Cairo, June 12, 2007.
82 Human Rights Watch interview with Ayman Okail, attorney and director of Maat, an NGO that represented several of the 22 detainees in 2006, Cairo, June 12, 2007.
83 Human Rights Watch interview with Said Shehata, attorney for multiple detainees, Cairo, June 13, 2007.
84 Human Rights Watch interview with Mohamed Zarei, human rights attorney, Cairo, June 12, 2007. Zarei's argument appears accurate, with respect to the renewal of the Emergency Law in 2003: in April 2003, Prime Minister Atef Ebeid addressed the Egyptian parliamentary assembly about the need for the 2003 renewal, citing numerous ongoing threats to Egypt, including not only terrorism, but the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, worsening political instability in Sudan, smuggling of huge quantities of narcotics, and US military operations in Iraq. Arent these enough reasons to ask for an extension of the state of emergency for three more years? Ebeid asked. Ebeid also vowed that the renewal would not be a barrier to democratization, political participation, or freedom of expression. See Gamal Essam El-Din, Three More Years, Al-Ahram, March 5, 2003, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/627/eg4.htm (accessed September 6, 2007).
85 Human Rights Watch interview with Mohamed Hashim, Gamaa Islamiya official familiar with State Security detention practices, Cairo, June 12, 2007.
86 Human Rights Watch interview with Adel Mekki, attorney familiar with State Security activities, Cairo, June 13, 2007.
87 Human Rights Watch interview with Diaa Rashwan, commentator on terrorism issues for al-Ahram, Cairo, June 10, 2007.