Egypt protesters come to aid of ransacked Intercontinental hotel

Bel Trew, Tuesday 29 Jan 2013

Armed groups break into Semiramis hotel off Tahrir Square, shoot at employees and guests early Tuesday; anti-government demonstrators ward off looters as security forces fail to arrive

Boarded up entrance to ransacked InterContinental Semiramis hotel on Nile Corniche (Photo: Ahram Online)

Dozens of armed assailants raided and looted the InterContinental Semiramis hotel on Cairo's Nile Corniche, while staff desperately called for help via their official Twitter account, in the early hours of Tuesday morning amid fierce clashes between protesters and security forces.

Anti-government demonstrators secured the besieged hotel and helped hotel guests flee until they were safely in taxis to the airport, as the police and the army failed to come to their aid.

The protesters also helped the security forces in arresting 12 people who were attempting to loot the downtown Cairo hotel.

" EMERGENCY! WE ARE UNDER ATTACK! SEVERAL THUGS HAVE ENTERED THE SEMIRAMIS! SEND HELP," employees pleaded via the official hotel account on the micro-blogging site, "SOS If anyone knows anyone in #Military #Police #Government, please send help! Thugs in Lobby."

The inside of the hotel reception has been gutted, broken glass and rocks are strewn across the floor and outside the main gates.

Two large tables have been pushed up against the main entrance, staff have boarded up the smashed windows with wooden slats.

Security guard Hesham Abdel-Wahab, who was on duty through the night, described the terrifying scene to Ahram Online.

"Groups had already come to the hotel earlier to warn us that thugs were on their way so we called the police and requested they send forces, "Abdel-Wahab explains. "But when I spoke to the police, they just continued to ask me for my name, they were very hesitant. I kept saying to them that my name doesn't matter we were under attack."

Ahmed Ibrahim, another InterContinental  guard described 40 men armed with birdshot guns, knives and a semi-automatic weapon, approach the hotel around 2.30am.

They succeeded in breaking through the hotel's fortified shutters. Ahram Online reporter saw electrical wire tied to the metal gates, clearly used to force the doors open.

"One had a semi-automatic gun and started shooting inside the building, I was inside trying to hide and call the police, it was terrifying," Abdel-Wahab continues.

Some guests trapped in the hotel, locked themselves in their rooms to avoid the tear gas and bullets, as employees desperately struggled to evacuate the building

After the police failed to appear, Abdel-Wahab says, hotel staff phoned the army. "However they didn't arrive, they left us."

"It was terrible - I was scared to death," recalls Nabila Samak, Director of Marketing and Communications, who made the desperate calls for help from the hotel Twitter account. Samak added that Semiramis staff had even resorted to calling Egyptian TV talk shows to draw attention to their plight. 

The armed groups reportedly looted the building, stealing "everything they could get their hands on."

"We ran to the crisis meeting point on the 4th floor and barricaded ourselves in," Samak describes, "it unfolded so quickly we followed all our security measures, but no guards of hotels in Egypt are armed. We had to secure guests and colleagues." 

Meanwhile revolutionaries outside the hotel attempted to prevent the thugs from entering the building, reports Ahram Online journalist Karim Hafez who was at the scene.

"When they realised these groups were trying to loot the hotel, protesters shot fire crackers at them as they attacked the building and tried to push them away from the area but these groups were armed with birdshot bullets," says Hafez.

The assailants also attempted to steal the ATM in front of the hotel.

Journalist Mohammed Mare, who witnessed the event, recounted on his Twitter account that four people arrived in a Lancer car with no licence plate behind the protesters and fired the shots to scare protesters away, before storming the hotel.

The attackers shot at employees and continued to destroy the building for approximately three hours before security forces arrived.

So far there have been no confirmed injuries.

"We are the frontline, I'm still a bit shaky, and the situation is still not resolved. Clashes are starting again," Samak says, who thanked the revolutionaries that "stood by us last night," via the hotel's Twitter account, adding "you are awesome."  

The hotel manager declined to comment. 

"I blame President Mohamed Morsi's administration because there is no security here in Egypt under his rule," concludes Abdel-Wahab, "they just let the people fight each other."

There have been several nationwide protests starting this weekend to commemorate the second anniversary of the January 25 Revolution. On Monday, protesters marched in demonstrations against the Muslim Brotherhood and the president's rule marking also the second anniversary of the pivotal "Friday of Rage," on 28 January.

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