Potential Hot Spots: February 28, 2004

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On February 27 members of an Egyptian drug gang took 80 hostages in the southern Egyptian town of Nakhilah (about 300 kilometers south of Cairo). The town is located on the Nile River. The gang is led by Izzat Mohammed Hamid, described as a shadowy figure involved in drug trafficking. Apparently a failed police raid or arrest led to the mass hostage taking. It turned out that over 50 members of Hamids gang were in the town. On February 28 Egyptian security forces(most likely heavily armed paramilitary police troops) attacked the town to try and free the hostages. The security forces arrested 15 men. A subsequent report said the security troops seized a large quantity of drugs in the raid. However, several hostages were reported dead and an unknown number of the gunmen escaped. An Egyptian official was quoted as saying the gunmen set fire to 13 houses in the town. Eight houses were destroyed by gunfire when the security forces attacked. A wire service reporter was actually in touch with Hamid (by phone) when the security forces were attacking. Not all violence in Egypt is political violence wrought by radical Islamists. Where the political radicals and criminals meet is in the realm of buying weapons and laundering cash. Hamids gang is as heavily armed as any guerrilla group, and may be better trained than most. Whether armed guerrillas or armed crooks, the Egyptian economy suffers because both varieties frighten tourists. The effectiveness of Egyptian security forces has been a puzzle for years. While Egyptian intelligence may have a good idea of who does what, corruption in both the intelligence services and police services has made arresting crooks and guerrillas difficult. Initial reports suggest many civilian casualties in Nakhilah. Thats not the kind of news to inspire Egyptian public confidence in the security troops.


 

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