Crime wave grips Egypt blamed on lack of police

CAIRO—Gunmen kidnapped a grandniece of Anwar Sadat and demanded a ransom. In one southern city, robbers didn’t bother to wait until dark to target pedestrians. In another, a brawl between two school children led to a gunbattle that killed five.

A police state barely three months ago, Egypt has seen crime soar 200 per cent since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster from the presidency.

In many ways, this country of more than 80 million has become a free-for-all for criminals taking advantage of a weakened police force and political uncertainty. The spike in crime has made some nostalgic for Mubarak days, when the mostly corrupt and now discredited police force used torture, intimidation and blackmail to keep crime in check.

The persistent security vacuum in Egypt is the product of a chain of events associated with the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak’s regime on Feb. 11. Three days into the revolt, the police withdrew from the streets in still-unexplained circumstances following deadly clashes with protesters in Cairo and across much of the nation.

On the same day, Jan. 28, the gates of several prisons were mysteriously flung open and thousands of criminals made a dash for freedom. Simultaneously, dozens of police stations around the country were stormed and set ablaze, with hundreds of detained suspects freed and firearms looted.

Last month, the new Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawy dissolved the country’s hated State Security agency, a key demand of the youth groups behind the uprising. It was blamed for the worst human rights abuses during Mubarak’s 29-year rule. But the time it will take to replace the agency gives criminals a window of opportunity.

With police hardly visible in Cairo, masked gunmen in two cars kidnapped a 12-year-old grandniece of Sadat — Egypt’s president until he was assassinated in 1981 — while she was driven to school on Sunday morning at the upscale suburb of Heliopolis.

Zeina Effat Sadat was released Monday after her father paid ransom. Police later arrested six men and said the kidnappers, who included university graduates, had demanded about $840,000 in ransom.

12 Yemeni protesters killed

SANAA—Security forces and plainclothes gunmen opened fire on crowds of Yemenis marching through a southern city Monday, killing at least 12 and wounding dozens, in an intensifying crackdown protesters demanding an end to the 32-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Witnesses described troops and gunmen, some on nearby rooftops, firing wildly on thousands of protesters who marched past the governor’s headquarters in Taiz in the second straight day of violence in the southern city. Some — including elderly people — were trampled and injured as the crowds tried to flee, witnesses said.

Violence has swelled in recent days amid frustration over behind-the-scenes efforts to convince Saleh to step down in the face of a nearly two-month-old uprising. The United States and European countries have been contacting Saleh and his opponents, trying to find a formula for the president to leave his post with a stable transfer of power, an opposition spokesman said.

Syrian governor sworn in

DAMASCUS—A new governor, Mohammed Khaled Hannous, has been sworn in to rule the troubled Daraa province, centre of anti-government protests in which at least 80 people have been killed.

Replacing the governor is one of the gestures by President Bashar Assad aimed at defusing the protests.

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