National Council for Human Rights (NCHR)
To investigate the killing of citizen Sabri Abu Alaywa by policeman Emad Harfoush at the Kom Hamada train station in February 2011.
Conducting interviews with eyewitnesses and the police.
Sharif Abdel Moneim and Karim Shalaby.
The report details the events surrounding the killing of a citizen by a policeman at the Kom Hamada train station on February 10, 2011. The subsequent riot resulted in the arson of several rooms and millions of Egyptian pounds in damages, according to Muhammad Rida Abdel Salam, an inspector at the station.
- According to the report, the incident began when four men attempted to kidnap a young woman on the platform of the train station, threatening her with knives and demanding that she walk with them. The woman pushed one of the attackers and fled to the train station’s security office where she requested help. The security guard on duty exited the office to confront the men, but withdrew and called for backup when they brandished weapons in his face.
- Another officer arrived on the scene and took the woman to the station manager’s office. Almost immediately after, the four men broke into the manager’s office, brandishing weapons and demanding that the officer surrender the woman to them. The officer fired four warning shots into the air; when that did not succeed, he shot and killed one of them: Sabri Abu Alaywa.
- In the aftermath of the shooting, the body was left unguarded at the station, and security forces did not arrive until three to four hours later, despite the police station being only 500 meters away from the station. A crowd of “thugs and felons” gathered and began ransacking the train station, destroying furniture and equipment, and setting fire to the rooms as revenge for the killing of Abu Alaywa. Although security forces did nothing to stop the destruction at the train station, the police and military countered the crowd of “thugs” when it made its way toward the police station; no damage was done to the police station.
The report claims that although the police were receptive of the fact-finding committee and met with them, they refused to answer several questions and were vague in many of their responses. For example, one of the police officers questioned about the incident vaguely explained that police refrained from intervening at the train station for fear that their presence “would cause friction between the police and the citizens.”
The fact-finding committee’s report concludes that the officer was completely justified in shooting the attacker and that he deserves praise for his composure. However, the report lays blame on the Kom Hamada police department for leaving the body unguarded for several hours—which it claims was probably the main factor behind the arson of the station—as well as for its initial failure to respond to or de-escalate the situation and prevent the outbreak of violence. Finally, the report provides three recommendations: The report:
- calls for the police to take appropriate measures to prevent a similar event from happening;
- emphasizes the necessity of protecting infrastructure; and
- calls for the immediate replacement of all of the damaged equipment at the station.
While the fact-finding committee’s report effectively describes and explains the events leading up to the killing of Sabri Abu Alaywa, it completely fails to address sufficiently the question of why the police department failed to respond to the events at the train station. It provides no satisfying explanation for the police’s failure to remove the body or intervene, and there is no indication that the committee did anything to obtain information beyond conducting interviews at the station with the police forces and witnesses. The report would have been strengthened by interviews of the “thugs” allegedly responsible for burning the station. Furthermore, the report is vague because it doesn’t undertake any demographic description of the incident’s context, as other NCHR reports usually do. The numerous spelling errors throughout further suggest that the report was written in haste. The report does not add any new perspectives compared to news reports of the incident nor does it provide any actionable recommendations to guarantee justice or address the systemic failures that allowed the situation to escalate. Few critical media or NGO reports of the incident exist, except for some news articles painting the fallen police officer as a hero.
A full text of the report is available in Arabic here.