CAIRO: Egyptian security officials say thousands of weapons are being smuggled into the country across the Libyan border.
They say residents of southern Egypt, where extended families often accumulate large arsenals to protect property and settle feuds, are the main buyers.
The officials said Monday that 576 weapons including modern sniper rifles were seized by police in the last three months in the Egyptian oasis of Siwa near the Libyan border.
They said the number of weapons that reached buyers undetected is believed to be five times the number seized.
Weapons smuggling out of Libya surged after its 2011 civil war, which freed up large numbers of arms for export.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The smuggling of weapons across the Libyan border fuels Egypt’s persistent security woes.
The nation’s much-hated police are yet to fully retake the nation’s streets after they retreated in not-yet-explained circumstances early in last year’s uprising that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
Thousands of inmates, including hardcore criminals, remain at large a year after a series of jailbreaks that took place when police first melted away 13 months ago.
The availability of weapons, coupled with the thin presence of police on the streets, has emboldened criminals to commit crimes that had been rare in Egypt, like armed robberies, hijacking armored vehicles carrying cash for banks, setting up fake checkpoints to rob passengers on highways and kidnapping children for ransom.
Rights activists and some politicians accuse the army generals who took over from Mubarak for the continued precarious security, arguing that the military had the resources and manpower to restore security. They cite the near total absence of violent incidents during recent parliamentary elections for which army troops provided security. Voting in Egypt has in the past routinely been marred by violence.
The generals say security has dramatically improved since the lawless days and weeks following Mubarak’s ouster.
Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, who is in charge of the police, said on Monday that security forces are combating crime committed by fugitive inmates, hardcore criminals taking advantage of the precarious security situation and first-time offenders pushed into crime by the nation’s economic crisis.
The minister’s comments were carried by the official Middle East News Agency.