CAIRO – The highest-level inquiry into the deaths of nearly 900 protesters in Egypt’s uprising has concluded that police were behind nearly all the killings and used snipers on rooftops overlooking Cairo’s Tahrir Square to shoot into the huge crowds.
The report, parts of which were obtained by The Associated Press, is the most authoritative and sweeping account of the killings and determines that the deadly force used could only have been authorized by Hosni Mubarak’s security chief, with the ousted president’s full knowledge.
The report of the fact-finding commission, created by Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, could weigh heavily in the upcoming retrial of Mubarak, as well as his security chief, former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly, and six top police commanders. It is likely also to fuel calls for reforming the powerful security forces and lead to prosecutions of members of the police force.
The findings were leaked at a sensitive time for the country’s police. Still hated by most Egyptians, the force is in upheaval, with segments of police on strike and its chief, Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, pleading not to drag it into politics. The force is also facing a challenge from Islamist groups threatening to set up popular committees to fill what they call a security vacuum created by the police strike.
Part of the force also is protesting what some officers see as an attempt by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood to control the force. The Brotherhood denies the charge.
The Interior Ministry, which controls the police, has repeatedly rejected charges that it bore responsibility for the killings in Cairo and other cities during the 18-day uprising that began on Jan. 25, 2011, and ended with Mubarak stepping down. In contrast, the pro-democracy activists behind the uprising have long maintained that police were to blame.
Mubarak and el-Adly, the second most powerful figure after the ousted leader, were convicted and sentenced to life in jail in June 2012 for failing to stop the killings, but the two have successfully appealed their convictions.
The six top police commanders put on trial with Mubarak and el-Adly – including the head of security in Cairo and commander of the riot police – were acquitted of charges related to the killings. The prosecution appealed that verdict, and a new trial of the eight starts next month.
The report was submitted to Morsi and the nation’s top prosecutor late last year.
One of the report’s authors, lawyer and rights activist Mohsen Bahnasy, said he planned to submit relevant parts of the report to the prosecution in the Mubarak case as well as to other courts trying policemen charged with killing protesters.
The 16-member fact-finding panel included rights activists, lawyers, judges and a representative from the military prosecutor’s office. It conducted about 400 interviews with police and witnesses.
The report went into extensive detail, citing police logs of the issuing of assault rifles and rounds of ammunition, and listing the officers who received them. It also cited logs on the rounds returned to storerooms, showing that a large amount was used, according to one member of the commission. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to reveal that part of the report.
The use of firearms can only be authorized by the interior minister who must in turn inform the political leadership (Mubarak), said the report. And if the police continue to use firearms for more than one day, then the political leadership must be informed.
The report cites witnesses as saying police snipers were positioned on the roofs of a hotel and the American University in Cairo, overlooking Tahrir, and the Interior Ministry nearby, firing down on crowds of protesters.
Police officials told the commission that snipers’ equipment of the kind used during the uprising could only be found with members of an elite counterterrorism unit that worked under Mubarak’s pervasive state security agency and took orders directly from the interior minister.
Most the victims were shot in the head or chest, suggesting the use of snipers, and bystanders were also killed or wounded as they watched the clashes from their homes, the report said.