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CAIRO – Thousands of inmates escaped prisons across Egypt on Sunday, including at least one jail that housed Muslim militants northwest of Cairo, security officials said.
The security officials said the prisoners escaped overnight from four jails after starting fires and clashing with guards. The inmates were helped by gangs of armed men who attacked the prisons, firing at guards in gun battles that lasted hours.
The vacuum left by the police has promoted residents to form neighborhood protection groups, armed with firearms, sticks and clubs to set up self-styled checkpoints and barricades to ward off looting gangs roaming Cairo and other cities.
Rumours were rife with reports of escaped convicts running through the streets. State television reported at least 60 rape cases during the unrest but it was impossible to confirm that.
"There are no police to be found anywhere," said Ghadeer, 23, from an upscale neighbourhood. "Doormen and young boys from their neighbourhoods are standing outside holding sticks, razors and other weapons to prevent people from coming in."
"Our jobs are done and over. There are thugs everywhere, ransacking our shops," Saleh Salem, a shop owner in central Cairo. "Since the government is not doing it, we are sending down our boys to create human shields to fight the criminals."