Wanted posters give suspected terrorists no place to hide in Egypt

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

Posters of wanted terrorists appear in a shopfront window in Cairo as part of a new public security initiative. [Waleed Abu al-Khair/Al-Mashareq]

Posters of wanted terrorists appear in a shopfront window in Cairo as part of a new public security initiative. [Waleed Abu al-Khair/Al-Mashareq]

In a move designed to enhance national security and bring terrorists to justice, Egyptian authorities this year began posting the photographs and names of wanted terrorists in public places.

Images of individuals wanted by the authorities on various criminal charges now appear in shopfront windows in most Egyptian cities and towns as well as on public transportation and inside bus, subway and train stations.

This encourages the public to work with the security forces to fight terrorism, and could facilitate the arrest of wanted terrorists, experts told Al-Mashareq.

It also exposes the faces of the criminals involved in acts of terrorism, and gives them nowhere to hide, they said.

Widely circulated photos

The Interior Ministry regularly releases the photographs of those wanted by judicial authorities, Brig. Gen. Mahmoud Salem of the Cairo police told Al-Mashareq.

"The information usually pertains to individuals with prior convictions and criminals, and sometimes to those wanted on security charges," he said.

But this is perhaps the first time the photos and names of terrorists have been circulated so widely and openly, he said, as they are typically only circulated to the media and posted on the ministry's social media accounts.

"The new lists include terrorist groups operating in the Upper Egypt region, and the city of Qena specifically, and the terrorists involved in the church bombings that occurred recently," Salem said.

Wanted signs that include photos of the offenders have been posted in shop windows and on public buses, where commuters can see them up close, he said.

The signs also have been posted near ticket booths at train and metro stations to ensure they are seen by all commuters, he added.

"Egypt is a country of about 100 million, which makes it easy for criminals to go into hiding, especially in congested areas such as Cairo or Alexandria," Salem said.

He noted that terrorists routinely change their names, so it was imperative to circulate their photos to help people identify them.

The Interior Ministry set up a hotline to report wanted individuals or suspicious activity, he said, offering assurance that the names of callers will remain confidential in order to protect them from possible retaliation.

Monetary rewards of up to half a million Egyptian pounds ($28,000) for solid information leading to the arrest of terrorists will encourage the public to come forward with information, Salem said.

Strong public response

Al-Azhar cleric Sheikh Abdel Moneim Mohammed, imam of al-Nour mosque in al-Maadi, told Al-Mashareq he printed hundreds of copies of the wanted posters at his own expense and distributed them in the mosque and at other locations.

He stressed the need for clerics to be involved in this matter, noting that terrorists exploit religion and use it as a cover for their terrorist actions.

Mohammed said he distributed the posters he printed to street vendors and sanitation workers, as they see more people and faces than anyone on a daily basis in the course of their work.

The circulation of the photographs is timely, given concern over the proliferation of terrorist attacks, he said, and has met with a strong public response.

"This presents an opportunity to remind the public of the threat that these groups pose and the risk involved in working with them or harbouring their elements or even withholding any information," he said.

The wider distribution of "wanted" information will involve Egyptians more directly in identifying the perpetrators of terrorist acts, said Mazen Zaki, director of Ibn al-Waleed Studies and Field Research Centre's new media department.

The photographs have been widely circulated online and on social media, he said, but many people do not use these forms of media, "so it was necessary to deliver this information to them via simple and direct means".

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May God give you victory and protect Egypt and its security!