Total Pageviews

Friday, January 24, 2014

Video of Deadly Bombing in Cairo

As my colleague David Kirkpatrick reported, at least six people were killed and 70 injured in a string of four bombings that targeted police installations across Cairo on Friday. A closed-circuit television camera captured video of the largest blast, a car bomb, which exploded outside the city’s main police headquarters, killing four and badly damaging a museum and library. The bombers responsible for the attack were also briefly captured on video.

The video was shown in the form of two separate clips on el-Fagr, an Egyptian television network, which also uploaded them to the station’s YouTube account. In the first clip, the bombers can be seen parking a light-colored car in front of the police headquarters at 6:29 a.m., when the street was largely empty and still. A dark-colored car pulled up next to it, and the driver quickly jumped out and ducked into the getaway vehicle, which sped off. In the moments before the video ends, two people can be seen approaching the parked car and inspecting it.

Video shows bombers parking a car outside the main police headquarters in Cairo and leaving in a second car. The parked car later exploded.

A second clip from the closed-circuit television video picked up where the first left off. The two people who approached the car to inspect it can be seen leaving the car and going back into the police headquarters. Less than two minutes later the parked car exploded in a blinding flash of light. Dust and smoked choked the air, and only one of the many streetlights that were visible before the explosion can still be seen shining.

Another clip from a closed-circuit television video taken of the blast showed the car bomb exploding.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, a jihadist group that has mainly focused its attacks in the volatile Sinai Peninsula, claimed responsibility for all four attacks in a statement released on Friday. David Barnett, a researcher who closely follows Islamic extremist groups in Sinai and Gaza, posted a copy of the Arabic-language statement on Twitter.

In recent weeks the group has expanded its reach beyond Sinai, and in late December it carried out a similar car bombing in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, killing 15 and injuring 100 at a police station there. The group also claimed responsibility for an attack on Thursday, the day before the Cairo bombings, in the central Egyptian city of Beni Suef. That attack, on a police checkpoint, killed five and injured two more, according to Egyptian Independent, a news website.

Liam Stack also blogs about the Middle East on Twitter @liamstack.

Letter to Obama From American Detained in Egypt

Mohamed Soltan, an American citizen whose Egyptian father belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, was detained in Cairo in August, as our colleague David Kirkpatrick reported last year.

According to his family, Mr. Soltan, a 26-year-old graduate of Ohio State University who moved to Egypt last year, joined a Brotherhood-led sit-in at Rabaa Square in Cairo to defend what he considered the norms of American-style democracy.

Mr. Soltan was shot in the arm on Aug. 14, when security forces broke up sit-ins at Rabaa and another square, killing nearly a thousand people. He was recovering from surgery to remove the bullet when the police raided his home and arrested him. His family, which is collecting signatures on a petition calling for his release, has released the following text of a letter Mr. Soltan wrote to President Obama from a cell in Cairo’s Tora Prison on his 26th birthday in November.

Dear President Obama,

Last week, I underwent a procedure to remove two 13” metal nails that were placed in my left arm to help support and repair the damage sustained from a gunshot wound I suffered at the hands of Egyptian security forces. The bullet that punctured my arm was paid for by our tax dollars. I was forced to undergo this procedure without any anesthesia or sterilization because the Egyptian authorities refused to transfer me to a hospital for proper surgical care.

After the nails penetrated the skin at my elbow from below, and ripped through my shoulder muscle from above. The doctor who performed this procedure is a cellmate. He used pliers and a straight razor in lieu of a scalpel. I laid on a dirty mat as my other cellmates held me down to ensure I did not jolt from the pain and risk permanent loss of feeling and function in that arm. The pain was so excruciating, it felt like my brain could explode at any given point. I was finally given two aspirin pills almost an hour later when the guards found my cellmates screams for help unbearable.

I share these details here because my mind drifted to 2007 as I stared at the ceiling of my cramped cell after surgery. During your first presidential campaign, I was moved by your message. I was so passionate about everything you represented. Finally, “change we can believe in.” I saw you, as many Americans did then, a true civil servant looking to put the disadvantaged first, and to pioneer a new model of governance. I felt I was part of the making of a great chapter in my country’s history. You were someone I wanted to stand behind, someone I wanted to support, so I volunteered and worked for your campaign in Ohio, a crucial swing state. As an O.S.U. student, I went door-to-door, made phone call after phone call, urged people to join the movement that would revolutionize American politics. It was time to go back to a government “for the people, of the people.”

Now as I sit in this crowded cell, I can’t help but ask myself, was I naïve to think you were a departure from the norm? As domestic and foreign policies I disagreed with passed during your terms, I chalked it up to the negative consequence of bipartisanship, but now after months of being held without cause in Egypt’s infamous prisons and so little [regard for] my Americanness, let alone humanity, shown, I am beginning to think I was just another silly, idealistic college kid who believed the world can look a whole lot different, with a leader such as yourself at the head of it.

Your abandonment of me, an American citizen who worked tirelessly towards your election, and a staunch supporter and defender of your presidency, has left a sting in me that is almost as intense as the sharp pain emanating from my recently sliced arm.

Mr. President, all I long for is the opportunity to get together this Thanksgiving with family and friends and enjoy some turkey and pie. I keep dreaming about watching my Buckeyes winning it all this year after beating Michigan. Counting down the clocks on New Years. Watching the Super Bowl in my Tom Brady jersey (hopefully he isn’t a disappointment this past season!) and eating a good ol’ cheeseburger with a side of fries.

Unfortunately, my reality is that I am waking up day after day in a packed underground cell, awaiting the chance to shower, or another laughable interrogation in front of an impartial puppet, just so I can get some sunlight and move my legs in hopes of avoiding another blood clot.

I often get asked sarcastically by judges, officers, and even inmates, “Where is this first world country that takes such pride in defending human rights and freedoms? Where are they now to help you?” Of course, I am left speechless every time. The only sensible, yet unacceptable conclusion that I can come up with is that the U.S. governments protections of political interests is more important and takes precedence over the protections of its citizens’ rights, freedoms, and safety abroad. No American should have to come to that conclusion, and no human should experience the inhumane circumstances me and 15,000 other political prisoners are facing.

For months, every day I woke up thinking: “Today is going to be the day Americanness counts. Today will be the day those promises my president made me will materialize, today will be the day the Egyptian authorities will have no choice but to treat me like a human being. As of today, my 26th birthday, I am no longer that naïve kid who once believed in those promises and hopes that you will come through in my time of desperate need. Unfortunately, where there once was hope and change now stands a dark underground cell. With only hope and trust in God.

Mr. President, I can only ponder on your legacy… that could have been.


Mohamed Soltan
Istikbal Torah, Cairo Egypt
Sector G, Cell #3

Egyptian Filmmaker Who Mocks Authorities on YouTube Detained Amid Widening Crackdown in Cairo

The sense that Egypt’s revolution has come full circle, with the security state shaken by protests that started three years ago this week finally reasserting itself, intensified on Friday with the arrest of an artist who posts wry commentaries on the country’s leaders on YouTube.

The artist, Aalam Wassef, was detained at his apartment in Cairo, near a locked-down Tahrir Square, along with a friend from Switzerland, his fellow-filmmakers Omar Robert Hamilton and Lobna Darwish reported in Twitter. Mr. Wassef, who made subversive Web videos during the Mubarak era under the pseudonym Ahmad Sherif, has continued to apply his cutting sense of humor to the generals, Islamists and remnants of the old regime who have ruled Egypt for the past three years.

One of Mr. Wassef satirical videos, posted on his YouTube channel last week, is titled, “I Was Revolutionary, But Now I’m Cured.” It shows the filmmaker having a dream in which pleasant memories of the 2011 uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak from power were suddenly interrupted by nightmare images of the recent crackdown on dissent by the military-backed government, including the arrest of the activist blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah for encouraging peaceful protest.

“I Was Revolutionary, But Now I’m Cured,” a satirical video posted on YouTube last week by the filmmaker Aalam Wassef, who was arrested on Friday.

In the second half of the film, the artist sleeps peacefully, and even sings a ballad to Mr. Mubarak, after painting heart-shaped graffiti on his bedroom wall around the date June 30. It was on that date last year that the military responded to street protests against Mr. Mubarak’s elected but increasingly authoritarian successor, Mohamed Morsi, by deposing him and putting in place an interim government.

The transitional administration has given free reign to the hated police force that was the original target of the uprising that started on Jan. 25, 2011, designated Police Day in Egypt. Since June 30, hundreds of Islamist protesters have been killed by the authorities and the many of the secular activists who mobilized support for the original revolt have been jailed.

Another Egyptian filmmaker, Hossam Meneai, and an American journalist and translator, Jeremy Hodge, were also swept up in the crackdown this week in Cairo, friends and family of the two men said in a statement published on Friday in the Egypt Independent, an English-language news site. The statement said that the two men were detained on Wednesday by Egypt’s state security investigations service, the secret police, and are being held at an undisclosed location.

No information about why the men were arrested has been made public, but the pair’s friends said that Mr. Meneai recently produced a documentary about Egyptian Coptic Christians for Russian state television and Mr. Hodge has done translations for the Berlin-based Transparency International. The United States Embassy in Cairo is reportedly working to gain access to Mr. Hodge, a Los Angeles native.

In his other recent films, Mr. Wassef has made his distrust of the current military-backed government clear. In one video, he mocked a wave of xenophobic, anti-American nationalism encouraged by the Army by remixing a speech by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, in which the new commander-in-chief praised Arab monarchs for their support, without mentioning that all of them enjoy close relations with the United States.

The Egyptian filmmaker Aalam Wassef’s video, “Sisi, the Secret American?”

In another video, posted on YouTube in August after the security forces attacked a Cairo sit-in, killing hundreds of protesters, Mr. Wassef suggested that the lessons for American policy makers should be clear: “Don’t finance military dictatorships. It’s rather damaging.”

“Egypt, August 16th 2013,” a film by Aalam Wassef, posted on YouTube that day.

Despite his skepticism about the military, Mr. Wassef is clearly no Islamist. Six months before the June 30 protests that led to Mr. Morsi’s ouster, the filmmaker had called for him to step down in a rap video that surveyed the chaos provoked by the Islamist president’s decision to grant himself broad powers to push through a new constitution.

A rap video made by Aalam Wassef in December 2012, calling on the Islamist President Mohamed Morsi to step down.

As my colleague David Kirkpatrick reports from Cairo, the arrest of the artist comes after a series of deadly bombings shook the Egyptian capital one day before the revolution’s third anniversary. The filmmaker’s friends and supporters, including the writer Ahdaf Soueif, noted the irony of the police taking time to detain a supporter of peaceful protest as bombs exploded around the city.

Journalists reporting on the aftermath of the explosions in Cairo witnessed apparently spontaneous demonstrations in support of General Sisi, who is widely expected to run for president. The crowds, which roamed freely at the blast sites, also chanted against President Obama, who has been derided in Egypt as a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, a conspiracy theory partly inspired by rumors spread by his political opponents in the U.S. Congress.

The recent spike in anti-American hysteria seemed to reach a peak earlier this month when a journalist and former member of Parliament, Mostafa Bakry, claimed in a tirade on Egyptian television that intelligence sources told him that President Obama was plotting to assassinate General Sisi. In that event, Mr. Bakry said, the Egyptian people would rise up in vengeance and “slaughter Americans in the streets.”

Video, with English subtitles, of the Egyptian journalist Mostafa Bakry claiming that intelligence sources told him of a plot by President Obama to assassinate Egypt’s defense minister.

Mr. Bakry later told Buzzfeed that his remarks had been “totally misunderstood,” but stood by the claim that Mr. Obama’s administration “supports the Muslim Brotherhood and supports the terrorists,” and so ” is putting the lives of American citizens in danger.”

In his most recent YouTube commentary, Mr. Wassef cast a skeptical eye on Mr. Bakry’s remarks, suggesting that he was in need of medical attention, love, or both.

Aalam Wassef’s video mocking an anti-American rant by a former member of Egypt’s Parliament.

Robert Mackey also remixes the news on Twitter @robertmackey.