Policeman accused of shooting civilian in Ain Shams detained pending trial

An enlisted police officer accused of shooting dead a civilian while on duty in Cairo’s Ain Shams neighborhood has been detained pending trial.

The deceased civilian, identified as 32-year-old Moatasem Bellah Mohamed, was killed on Monday after being pursued by two policemen.

The circumstances that led to the shooting are not yet clear, and the Interior Ministry has not released an official statement on the incident.

Citing eyewitness accounts, local media outlets reported that Mohamed was pursued by two policemen, who were dispatched to examine a complaint over a construction violation. They are reported to have encountered Mohamed by chance on their way to the construction site.

There are divergent accounts of events, however, as the privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper, citing an anonymous security source, reported that a gun was found in Mohamed’s possession at the time of his death. The newspaper added that prosecutors are in the process of investigating one of the enlisted officers on charges of intentional homicide.

Veto newspaper reported that Mohamed had been showing his gun to another person on the street when police noticed him. He ran away in the hope of evading the police, at which point they began pursuing him and he tripped and fell. 

“A bullet was discharged” from one of the police personnel’s weapons as they attempted to restrain him, Veto added.

The privately owned Masrawy news website reported that Mohamed was brandishing a gun when police passed by and noticed the weapon in his hand. According to an anonymous security source cited by the website, Mohamed pointed the gun in the direction of the policeman in a threatening manner. 

The article similarly reports that Mohamed tripped and fell, however it claims that one of the policemen opened fire on the suspect, killing him on the spot. Local residents then reportedly held the two policemen and handed them over to the local police station.

Prosecutors subsequently ordered the confiscation of the enlisted officers’ guns pending investigations into the shooting, and demanded an autopsy in the hope of identifying the exact circumstances of Mohamed’s death.

Police personnel have been accused of shooting civilians in a string of previous incidents. In February, a police officer shot dead a tuk tuk driver in the governorate of Monufiya, claiming that the driver struck him and drove off.

In August 2016, a police officer shot dead a microbus driver in the Cairo district of Maadi after his colleague’s vehicle collided with the microbus. Microbus drivers responded by organizing a strike. The Interior Ministry defended the officer’s actions in an official statement, arguing that he fired “a warning shot in the air using the gun in his possession, which resulted in the accidental death of the driver.” The case is still outstanding. 

In April 2016, another enlisted officer shot a tea vendor in Cairo, killing him and wounding two passersby outside the Rehab residential compound in New Cairo after a dispute erupted over the price of a beverage. The officer was sentenced to life in prison in November.

In February 2016, a taxi driver was shot by police in the Cairo district of Darb al-Ahmar following a dispute over a cab fare. A crowd gathered following the incident and beat the enlisted officer responsible, who was subsequently hospitalized. The shooting unleashed a wave of popular protests in the area. In April, the enlisted officer was sentenced to life in prison.

Karim Abdel Rady, a lawyer at the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information told Mada Masr that the majority of serious or fatal shootings of civilians are perpetrated by enlisted officers in the general police corps, not commissioned officers.

Abdel Rady said “there are several reasons for the prevalence of such shootings, at the forefront of which is a history of impunity and lack of accountability for police personnel involved in such shootings.” While several police personnel have been handed lengthy prison sentences for the killing of civilians, most have been cleared of any wrongdoing.

Abdel Rady added that following a civilian shooting, “the first response of the Interior Ministry typically entails blaming the victims.”

The rights lawyer went on to state that enlisted police officers “usually do not have enough training in terms of the responsible use of firearms. Furthermore, in their training, there is very little emphasis on human rights or basic freedoms.”

“There is also little training in sharp-shooting,” he added. So in cases involving the use of firearms against dangerous or armed suspects, enlisted officers usually fire shots that are fatal, even when aiming to avoid the suspect’s head or vital organs.”