US Citizen Dies in Egyptian Custody

Fears for westerners mount in restive north African country as American dies in his cell, British citizen arrested.

Contact Editor
Ari Soffer,

(Illustration) Egyptian soldiers
(Illustration) Egyptian soldiers
Flash 90

An American citizen who was arrested by Egyptian security forces in August in El Arish, in the Sinai Peninsula, has died in jail after apparently committing suicide.

James Henry Lunn, a former US Army officer, was detained in the north of the restive Sinai Peninsula on 27th August. He was one of nine foreign citizens detained that month, as security forces cracked down on violent protests by supporters of oustet President Mohammed Morsi. 

The circumstances of his arrest are somewhat murky. At the time, Egyptian authorities said he was arrested for breaking the curfew imposed by the interim government as part of their campaign to restore order to the region. The Sinai Peninsula has seen Islamist violence boil over into a low-level anti-government insurgency, which has killed scores of security forces and civilians.

Egyptian officials at the time said Lunn had claimed to be on his way to Gaza, and raised further suspicions after "a map of Egypt and a very hi-tech electronic device" were found on his person, according to Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdellatty.

US Embassy officials had been in regular touch with Mr. Lunn since his arrest, they said, and had visited him at the jail in the city of Ismailia where he was being held as recently as 8th October.

An official confirmed that "a US citizen prisoner in Ismailia died from an apparent suicide."

Egyptian authorities have said that the initial evidence suggests he hung himself in his cell with his belt and shoelaces.

Lunn is the latest foreigner to die in Egypt since the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi in the summer, following a spate of xenophobic attacks by Egyptians - the result of inflammatory comments and conspiracy theories pointing towards "foreign involvement" emanating from both sides of Egypt's deep political divide. 

In September, a French citizen was murdered by fellow detainees at a Cairo police station, after being detained by security forces.

More recently, last week, two Canadian activists were released after 50 days in detention, during which they allege they were tortured by Egyptian police.

Meanwhile, Egyptian security sources claim to have arrested a British citizen in El Arish Monday.

The 44 year-old man was arrested for "possessing clothes similar to army and central security uniforms," including trousers, a black jacket and two pairs of shoes, according to an unnamed sources quoted by Aswat Masriya.

Security forces also confiscated two telephones, one laptop and 5,000 British pounds, he said.

They took the decision to act after discovering that “there is a foreigner who goes to coffee shops in Arish and interacts with citizens.”