Egypt detains 6 over play about cop who gunned down Israeli tourists

Playwright, director of show about Suleiman Khater arrested because it ‘insults’ country’s security forces, officials say

Suleiman Khater (photo credit: Courtesy)
Suleiman Khater (photo credit: Courtesy)

CAIRO — Egyptian officials said six people have been arrested for their involvement in a play about a police cadet who killed Israeli tourists in a 1985 attack.

Authorities said the play is seen as insulting to security forces. Last week, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said any defamation of the country’s security forces amounted to “high treason.”

The officials said Tuesday that the playwright, director, and officials of the Cairo sports club where the play was staged were arrested last week and are being investigated by military prosecutors.

The play’s title is the name of a police conscript, Suleiman Khater, who gunned down seven Israeli tourists in Ras Burqa, a beach resort area in the Sinai Peninsula where he was stationed, on October 5, 1985. He was sentenced to life in prison but was found dead in his cell a year later.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media. It wasn’t immediately clear what about the play was seen by authorities as insulting to security forces.

Egyptian soldier Suleiman Khater, who, on October 5, 1985, opened fire on Israeli tourists in the Sinai Peninsula, killing seven of them. He was found dead in his prison cell in January 1986. (photo credit: screen capture, YouTube)

After Khater opened fire on a group of Israelis at the beach, he was disarmed by fellow Egyptian soldiers.

Khater killed seven of the eight people he targeted — three adults and four young children. Only 5-year-old Tali Griffel, whose mother died shielding her body with her own, survived the massacre.

Egyptian authorities portrayed him as mentally ill, possibly to alleviate tensions with Israel over the incident.

On January 7, 1986, Khater was found hanging in his room in a military prison hospital “by a strip torn from a sheet of plastic,” according to a New York Times report.

Following Khater’s death, many in Egypt — including his close relatives, who described him as a religious man who would not take his own life — speculated that he was killed at the behest of then-president Hosni Mubarak’s government.

Many in the Arab world hailed Khater as a hero and role model, with the government of Iran under Ayatollah Khomenei issuing a stamp in his honor and naming a Tehran street after him.

In early 1989, Egypt agreed to compensate the victims of the Ras Burqa massacre, also issuing a formal statement of apology to the family of each victim.

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