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February 25, 2019

New Report Documents ISIS Recruitment in Egypt’s Prison System

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today released a new report documenting ISIS recruitment in Egypt’s prison system. Like a Fire in a Forest: ISIS Recruitment in Egypt’s Prisons is based on firsthand accounts from former prisoners documented on a Human Rights First research trip to Cairo last month, and features interview transcripts. The report includes concrete recommendations for the U.S. government to address this mass radicalization in Egypt’s penal system.

“ISIS is growing fast inside Egypt’s jails, where detainees are routinely tortured,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley, author of today’s report. “Torture and abuse is a key motivation for radicalizing angry prisoners, making Egypt’s prisons a prolific production line for ISIS. The organization is now in de facto control of parts of the penal system.”

Interviews included in today’s report indicate that the mass radicalization of Egypt’s prison population is seriously undermining President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s counterterrorism efforts. Egypt’s prisons are exactly what ISIS wants them to be—centers of humiliation, torture, and abuse. They are ideal recruitment hotspots for violent extremists.

“It’s like a fire in a forest,” one former prisoner told Dooley, indicating that Sisi’s counterterrorism efforts are fueling the very problem they aim to eradicate. Another prisoner detained in multiple prisons added, “By the time I left, the radicalizing was spreading very fast…When you start off with a cell of two hundred people, you could have by the end of a year at least one hundred of them radicalized. It was happening everywhere I was detained.”

Earlier this year Presidents Trump and Sisi committed to strengthening counterterrorism efforts and increasing regional stability. Without a radical change in Egypt’s criminal justice system, however, ISIS’s ranks will continue to grow, greatly undermining government efforts. Human Rights First calls on the Trump Administration to advance penal reform by reinstating human rights conditions on foreign military financing to Egypt, something Secretary of State Pompeo lifted last summer.

“The U.S. government should condition aid to Egypt on President Sisi ending abuse in the country’s jails, which is driving large numbers of prisoners to ISIS,” said Dooley. “The Trump Administration should publicly address this growing problem and send American officials to assess for themselves what is happening inside the jails."

Last fall Human Rights First published, Aiding Repression in Egypt: Why the U.S. Needs to Keep Human Rights Conditions on Military Aid, a report that detailed the human rights situation in Egypt and offered analysis of the impact of lifting of holds on foreign military funding by the Trump Administration.

For more information or to speak with Dooley, contact Christopher Plummer atPlummerC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3310.