Egypt Security UpdateJanuary 29, 2014 in Egypt
The US and UK embassies have updated travel advice for Egypt. Citizens have been urged to limit their movements. The announcement comes after a tumultuous series of events. Over the weekend, thousands celebrated in the streets of Cairo and across Egypt to mark the 3rd anniversary of the Egyptian uprising. Amidst the attacks, a series of protests among divided groups led to heavy conflicts across the nation. Clashes between demonstrators and security forces left at least 49 people dead and 247 injured. The Egyptian Interior ministry reportedly arrested over 1,000 demonstrators.
Further darkening the celebrations, a series of bombings took place across Cairo. Radical Sinai-based group Ansar Beit al Maqdis has taken responsibility for the bombings, as well as the shooting down of an army helicopter in the Sinai Peninsula on 25 January. The group released a video of one of its members using a surface to air missile to attack the helicopter.
On 28 January, members of Ansar Beit al Maqdis shot and killed an aide to Egypt’s interior minister. Two assailants on motorcycle targeted General Mohamed Said, head of the minister’s technical office, as he was leaving his home near the governorate building and Talbia police station.
The surrounding area has been cordoned off while investigations continue. Egypt’s Interior Minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, escaped an assassination attempt conducted by the same group in September.
Within hours of the assassination, security forces also found a box containing Molotov cocktails and a homemade bomb near Egypt’s High Court in downtown Cairo. The box was removed and dismantled, and the area was forcibly cleared of protesters demonstrating against the renewed trial of Mohamed Morsi.
During Morsi’s trial, he and 21 defendants were enclosed in a sound-proof glass cage in order to prevent a repeat of the interruptions they made in their first court appearance last year. The defendants, along with at least a hundred others who are being tried in absentia, are charged in the escape of more than 20,000 inmates from three Egyptian prisons during the early days of the 2011 uprising. Additionally, they have been charged with damaging and setting fire to prison buildings, murder, attempted murder, looting prison weapons depots, and allowing prisoners from the “Hamas movement, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Jihadists, Brotherhood [members] and other criminals” to break out of jails. Morsi insisted to the court that he is a political prisoner, not a detainee. “I am the legitimate president of the country […] and this trial is not legal.” The detainees chanted “Down with military rule,” and “null, null, null.” The judges postponed the trial until February 22 to allow the lawyers enough time to review the case files.
The US embassy has updated their advice to ask US citizens to elevate their level of awareness and limit their movements to the near vicinity of their neighbourhoods. Likewise, they advise overland travel outside metropolitan areas.
Similarly, the UK FCO has urged foreign nationals to be aware of nearby protests and leave the area immediately. Further citizens are urged take particular care in areas with a history of regular protests. On 24 and 25 January, some westerners “were singled out and attacked by some protestors.”