Egyptians Storm Security Offices, Grab Secret Files

The storming of Egypt's state security and other government compounds has netted Egyptians their first look at secret files documenting government atrocities during former President Mubarak's 30-year rule. Many of the records are being posted on public media sites. Some argue the information is private and belongs to the people cited in the files. Others hope to use the documents to bring officials to justice.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne with Ari Shapiro in Washington, D.C.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep in Cairo. Egypt's revolution is not over. In fact, it seems to be accelerating. Just in the last week, the threat of a protest forced a prime minister out of office. Christian and Muslim protesters clashed on the streets. Demonstrators marking International Women's Day were shouted down by other protesters. And Egyptians began to face a reckoning with decades of authoritarian rule.

Last weekend, protesters pulled intelligence files out of state security offices. Some found records of themselves - including a woman who spoke with NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.

(Soundbite of protest)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Salma Said is one of hundreds of protesters who recently stormed the Cairo headquarters of Egypt's notorious State Security Investigations.

(Soundbite of protesters)

NELSON: She and the others ran from room to room in a frantic search for documents they say are needed to ensure justice for the many Egyptians wrongfully tortured and detained under ousted President Hosni Mubarak. The 26-year-old Said says they found what they were looking for in a hidden detention cell. A mountain of files implicated the Egyptian government in the New Year's Eve suicide bombing at a church in Alexandria.

More personal items were uncovered too. Like a sex tape of a Kuwaiti princess with an Egyptian businessman. To Said's dismay, she found photos a friend had snapped of her at a party. The pictures, which also showed Said's husband, were in the file of a male friend who'd been arrested by state security agents.

Ms. SALMA SAID: I felt very violated, even though I knew they were taken of me. But still, why would my personal photos be in an archive like this?

NELSON: Said says she took her photos with her. Many others who confiscated files and discs have posted their contents on Facebook or Twitter. The discoveries prompted Said and other protesters to try and storm the Interior Ministry the next night in hopes of recovering more documents. But soldiers and what many here believe were state-hired thugs attacked them.

(Soundbite of noisy crowd)

NELSON: Egypt's military rulers have since sent out phone messages and a Facebook notice demanding people return what files they have.

Mr. MALIK ADLI (Hisham Mubarak Law Center): (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Malik Adli of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center in Cairo, that is building a case against Egypt's security forces, says it's the country's chief prosecutor, not the military, who should receive the files. He and others fear that many of the most important documents were destroyed by officials in the days before protesters broke into the state security compound.

(Soundbite of protesters shouting in foreign language)

NELSON: Protesters searching dump trucks in front of state security headquarters Saturday night found bags of shredded paper they claimed were documents.

So far, dozens of state security agents have been arrested across Egypt. What charges they or their superiors will face is unclear. Reached by phone, Hossam Bahgat, who heads the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, says his countrymen have a right to know the truth.

Mr. HOSSAM BAHGAT (Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights): I prefer a process in which it is the victims themselves and the survivors themselves that are in the driver's seat and that decide whether or not they want to testify and tell their stories in public and whether or not they want to hold their abusers accountable.

NELSON: Activist Said, who found her photo in the state security files, agrees. She's less certain about how to help prisoners still being held by Egypt's state security.

Ms. SAID: The question that no one can avoid is: where are the detainees? No one found any detainees in these cells and some friend of mine told me that one of the officers said that they will not find the detainees, that they are gone.

NELSON: Said and others here fear they may have been tortured and killed. That appears to have been the fate of scores of other prisoners at Egypt's infamous Al-Fayoum Prison. Amnesty International yesterday released a chilling video shot by relatives of what they say are the bodies.

(Soundbite of video)

NELSON: In the footage, the dead prisoners are numbered with pieces of paper and showed signs of torture, including bullet wounds, burn marks and missing fingers. The human rights group is demanding the Egyptian government investigate the deaths.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.

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