Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
16 - 22 September 1999
Issue No. 447
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MPs urge tighter security

By Gamal Essam El-Din

El-Adli
El-Adli
The People's Assembly (PA), responding to the furore caused by a foiled pocket-knife attack against President Hosni Mubarak in Port Said on 6 September, urged Interior Minister Habib El-Adli on Saturday to introduce a new strategy for filling loopholes in the performance of the security forces, focusing on stringent and preventive measures. "Last week's ignominious attack in Port Said underlines the need for a more effective security system and continuous evaluation of its performance," a parliamentary statement said.

Following heated exchanges in a three-hour closed parliamentary meeting with El-Adli, PA Speaker Fathi Sorour announced to a news conference that the interior minister had conceded that lax security measures were partly responsible for the assault on Mubarak. According to Sorour, El-Adli said that a number of police officers and conscripts, in charge of securing the route of Mubarak's motorcade, are being questioned to determine the scope of negligence and laxity that led to the attack.

Despite this self-criticism, Sorour said that "the Port Said attack should not make us lose sight of the fact that the security forces have a brilliant record in combating terrorism and this is not a reason for parliament to lose confidence in the security forces. In contrast, parliament emphasises that the Interior Ministry should be provided with all the resources it needs in order to upgrade the performance of security forces."

For his part, El-Adli, addressing a combined closed meeting of parliament's general and national security committees, affirmed that he was taking firm action against all those whose laxity was proven.

He explained that several security precautions had been taken prior to Mubarak's visit to Port Said. "Several campaigns were launched to safeguard the route of President Mubarak's motorcade, including the detention of 741 suspects registered as dangerous to security and 176 persons in possession of knives or daggers and the search of 515 furnished flats. In addition, 1,600 conscripts, 81 criminal investigation officers, 70 central security officers and 313 secret police agents were deployed to secure the route of President Mubarak's motorcade," El-Adli said. And yet, he conceded that the preventive measures were not adequate to pre-empt the assault attempt.

An investigation is under way to determine why the police officers entrusted with securing the route failed to respond more speedily. These officers were also supposed to place the assailant on the list of suspects, observe his attempt to skip the police roadblock and then stop him before he reached the presidential motorcade, he said.

El-Adli announced that he had decided to appoint Salah Salama as the new chief of the State Security Investigation Department. The former chief, Hani El-Ezabi, was re-assigned as assistant to the minister for the security of airports and seaports. Moreover, El-Adli added, three senior police officers in charge of Port Said security were referred to trial before a disciplinary board. The three were named as Maj. Gen. Hassan Gebril, the city's security chief, Maj. Gen. Abdallah Nasr, state security inspector, and Brig. Gen. Mohamed Shaalan, director of the Criminal Investigation Department. Mohamed Farid Hassanein was appointed as Port Said's new security chief. El-Adli disclosed that 14 junior officers were also referred to trial.

El-Adli explained that the assailant, El-Sayed Suleiman, 40, rushed towards Mubarak's car brandishing a pocket-knife and attempted to stab the president, who pushed him away after suffering a slight wound. At the same time, Mubarak's chief bodyguard, riding in the front passenger seat, managed to push the assailant away from the car. One of the bodyguards then intervened and opened fire, leaving Suleiman dead on the spot.

Sorour told the news conference that the PA had been keen on having a meeting with the interior minister because this was an essential part of its supervisory role over the government's performance. As to whether the attack against Mubarak would make the PA devote hearing sessions on the burgeoning phenomenon of hooliganism and thuggery, Sorour said the PA would never be hesitant in urging the Interior Ministry to clamp down on thuggery because of its grave implications for society.

Asked why the emergency law should not be repealed, especially as it proved ineffective in pre-empting an attack on the president himself, Sorour responded that there could have been even more dangerous consequences had the emergency law not been in force.

Sorour said that parliamentary representatives of Port Said and the interior minister agreed that the assailant was not trying to submit a complaint or a petition to the president, as claimed by some news reports. Sorour also said that the attack should not be interpreted as the beginning of a new wave of terrorism. "The attack was an individual act. But parliament may consider it the re-opening of the dossiers of terrorism and religious extremism. Everything is possible and we will not hesitate in playing our role as the main watchdog institution in this country," Sorour said. He also indicated that the interior minister had promised to introduce a new security plan. "Of course, this plan should remain secret, but we will follow up and coordinate on what should happen in the future," Sorour concluded.

In the closed meeting with the interior minister, Sorour gave the floor to 31 deputies to speak their minds. Leftist El-Badri Farghali, a deputy for Port Said, told Al-Ahram Weekly that several deputies affirmed that the Interior Ministry should devote greater attention to combating hooliganism and thuggery. They emphasised, Farghali added, that many citizens believe that police forces are pre-occupied with the security of high officials at the expense of ordinary citizens.

Farghali urged the PA to send a fact-finding committee to Port Said to make a record of what he described as the deteriorating conditions there. "Port Said is now rife with unemployment because the prosperous years of the 1970s, when the city was a free zone area, are over," said Farghali. He asserted that slack security in Port Said had provided well known thugs such as the assailant with the opportunity to run wild, unchallenged. The assailant, who Farghali claimed was well known to the police, had also been known to take part in rigging parliamentary elections, Farghali said.

Farghali's words, however, were met by anger from some deputies, especially Mohieddin El-Kattan, a former police officer and a deputy for Kafr Al-Sheikh Governorate. El-Kattan described Farghali's criticism of the security forces as entirely unfounded.

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