The Ministry of Interior announced this week the arrest of alleged members of two “terrorist” cells in what could possibly be the first implementation of the newly passed counter-terrorism law, ratified by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Sunday.
Local and international human rights organizations have heavily criticized the “draconian” law, asserting that it poses a great danger to basic rights and freedoms. The law gives unprecedented powers to security forces and courts against people suspected of terrorism-related charges and journalists reporting on terrorism.
The law imposes the death penalty for those proven to be guilty of establishing or leading terrorist organizations, and bars police forces from legal responsibility while dealing with terrorists. The law also imposes serious censorship measures on various modes of communication, including social media, as well as fines of LE200,000-500,000 on journalists found to publish information that conflicts with official statements.
The law also grants the president the powers to impose a curfew and isolate areas for up to six months, subject to parliamentary approval.
In light of the new law, the Interior Ministry declared this week the arrest of two “terrorist cells,” allegedly affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. The first cell was arrested on Saturday in the northern governorate of Gharbiya. In a statement, the ministry said that 27 Brotherhood members were arrested from around the governorate.
The ministry reported that the arrested include one member in a “central leadership” position, one member of an administrative office, 11 in Zefta city, six from Santa, two from Samanoud, one from Mahalla, one from Kafr al-Zayyat, one from Qatour, one from Basioun, as well as one more member from Beheira Governorate.
According to a police statement, the suspects were arrested by national security forces while possessing arms and explosives, and are allegedly connected to 24 terrorist plots.
The suspects are purportedly involved in targeting two police buildings and six electricity towers, as well as six cases of vandalizing railways, bombing one bridge, damaging one supplies store and three attacks against communications companies.
They are also accused of attacking a pharmacy and other private property, and blocking roads in three incidents. The alleged perpetrators were reportedly planning to target vehicles owned by police officers and judges.
In a video posted by the Interior Ministry on YouTube, four suspects appeared in the video confessing that they belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood and were recruited by their leaders to join small terrorist cells to confront the Egyptian state.
Alleged members of two other cells were arrested in Sharqiya on Tuesday, specifically in Belbees and 10th of Ramadan City, where seven suspects were arrested. Fifty-two explosives were confiscated during the arrest, as well as other weapons and explosive material used in bombs.
The suspects are accused of bombing natural gas pipelines in the two cities, bombing main water supply stations, targeting four electricity towers in 10thof Ramadan, as well as attempting to target police forces.
Militants in Sharqiya have a history of targeting law ranking police officers since the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. In early August, unknown assailants assasinated a low-ranking police officer was assassinated while he was guarding Abu Hammad police station. In the last two and a half years, dozens of low-ranking police officers have been killed in various attacks in Abu Kabir, Zagazig, Hehya, Qenayat, Abu Hammad and Kafr Saqr.
The Interior Ministry posted another YouTube video in which the Sharqiya suspects confessed to belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and joining the Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in, which was dispersed two years ago. The suspects said they were recruited by their leaders to plan terrorist plots.
Critics have repeatedly said that many suspects are being forced into making “confessions” by torture.
In a similar video released by the Interior Ministry on June, three illegally detained civilians appeared as they reiterated similar confessions, according to the No to Military Trials Campaign. The campaign said that the three people will be referred to a military court.
The three civilians were photojournalist Islam Gomaa, student Ahmed Saber Labib, and Mahmoud Abdel Aziz Mourshedy. The three were allegedly abducted by police forces, and their families knew nothing about their whereabouts before they appeared in the video.