Gaza, Asharq Al-Awsat – Sunday, 30 January 2011 proved to be one of the longest days in the life of Mutasim Quqa, one of the Palestinians being detained in Egypt’s “Abu Zaabal” prison. Quqa managed to escape from the prison – along with a group of detainees – and return to the Gaza Strip, taking advantage of the state of chaos in Egypt and particularly the country’s prisons, in the wake of the mass protests that have been taking place across the country. Quqa revealed that following morning prayers on Sunday 30 January 2011, he returned to his cell but suddenly and without warning, he heard gunshots and screaming, and saw thick smoke rising throughout the prison. He added that to his great surprise, an Egyptian prisoner then came and opened the door to his cell, informing him that hundreds of the inmates’ relatives had stormed the prison, and released the prisoners.
Quqa, who grew up in the Al-Shati refugee camp claimed that the guards opened fire on the prisoners, who were streaming from their cells, particularly in the prison’s Blocks 1 and 2. He said “I saw at least ten prisoners’ bodies, in addition to many wounded, both within the prison and its surrounding area.” Quqa had spent seven years in prison, and has claimed to have escaped along with 11 other Palestinian detainees. He said that the group traveled to Sinai, where a number of Sinai Bedouins helped them to reach el-Arish, via back routes to ensure that the Egyptian authorities did not catch them. He revealed that he then entered the Gaza Strip through illegal tunnels from Egypt. Quqa clarified that this group of prisoners did not travel together, indicating that once he reached in el-Arish, he immediately took the route to enter the Gaza Strip via the tunnels. He added that he later learned that the Egyptian security forces had managed to arrest a number of detainees who had escaped, and return them to prison.
Mutasim Quqa returned to the Palestinian territories with other Palestinian detainees, including Hassan Wishah, Muhammad Abdel Hadi, Omar Sha’ath, and Juma’a al-Tahleh. The 5 Palestinian detainees are reportedly members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
As for why he had been sentenced to ten years imprisonment, Quqa explained that he was accused of infiltrating Egypt and belonging to an “Arab terrorist organization”, in accordance with Egypt’s Emergency Law. He revealed that he and his associates had been treated like terrorists coming to sabotage Egypt. However, Quqa clarified that he was arrested whilst accompanying a sick relative, traveling to Egypt for treatment. He added “there was a decision to release me in 2005, but the prison administration manipulated the process. I was released, only for the state security apparatus to arrest me again. They then issued another sentence against me for five years imprisonment, despite their earlier decision to release me”.
For his part, Hassan Wishah revealed that he had been arrested by Egypt’s intelligence services and state security. He added “they tried to force me to admit that I was coming to sabotage Egypt, and issued a ten year prison sentence against me, of which I served three years.”
Wishah and Quqa spoke of being tortured in prison, and being subject to electric shock and the strappado [a form of torture in which the victim’s hands are tied behind his back and then they are suspended in the air by a rope tied to the wrists]. Wishah claimed that the Egyptian security had questioned them about kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.
Alaa al-Sayad, coordinator for the relatives of detainees in Egyptian prisons, said “so far, six of the political prisoners who managed to escape from Egyptian prisons, during the recent events, have arrived in the Gaza Strip”. He added that “out of the 39 political detainees being held in Egyptian prisons, 12 have managed to escape over the past few days”.
For his part, Muhammad Abdel Hadi, one of the detainees who arrived in Gaza on Sunday, said “I managed to escape from Abu Zaabal prison in Egypt, with eight fellow Palestinian political prisoners, after the prison was set on fire during recent events.” Abdel Hadi was detained in Egypt in 2009 on charges of “belonging to the Izz al-Din al-Qassam brigade, the military wing of the Hamas movement.