Human Rights First Report Finds ISIS Recruitment Happening in Egyptian Prisons

WASHINGTON – Human Rights First today released a report documenting ongoing recruitment by ISIS in Egypt’s prison system; one of the report’s key recommendations is for the Biden administration to stop enabling the Cairo government’s abuses that fuel this recruitment.

Creating Time Bombs is based on firsthand accounts from former prisoners released from Egyptian jails since 2019. It includes a series of recommendations for the Biden administration, as early hopes that the administration would break from a decades-long U.S. practice of enabling repressive Egyptian dictatorships fade rapidly.

“The Biden administration has said it is ‘putting human rights at the center of U.S. foreign policy,’ but in Egypt, it seems to be ignoring a dictatorship’s human rights abuses that manufacture terrorists in their prisons,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley, the author of today’s report.

Egypt’s prisons are what ISIS wants them to be – places of humiliation, torture, and abuse. They make ideal recruitment centers for violent extremists.

“Torture is rife in Egypt’s jails, and this abuse helps in the radicalization of angry prisoners looking for revenge against the authorities,” said Dooley. “By plying the Egyptian government with arms and political support, U.S. policy is enabling ISIS to grow inside Egypt’s prison system. When the Biden administration takes on extremists, it will to some degree be taking on its own creation.”

Today’s report is a follow-up to Human Rights First’s 2019 report, Like a Fire in Forest, which charted ISIS recruitment in Egypt’s prison system between 2015 and 2018.

“The authorities are creating ticking time bombs,” one former prisoner says in the report. He said he knew three men who weren’t radicals before being jailed. “They joined ISIS in prison. When they were released, two went to fight for ISIS in Sinai, and one was killed fighting in Syria.”

“Our findings show this is still happening,” said Dooley. “The Cairo government knows it, the Biden administration knows it, but it continues.”

In the report, Human Rights First recommends:

  • That the Biden Administration cut military aid to Egypt until the human rights situation materially improves
  • Increase the share of Egypt’s foreign military financing that is contingent on its human rights record
  • Direct embassy officials and any visiting Members of Congress to request access to Egyptian prisons to assess their conditions
  • Use targeted sanctions on any Egyptian officials implicated in severe human rights violations.

Published on July 15, 2021


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