Residents in the Egyptian capital of Cairo have set up neighbourhood groups armed with guns, clubs and knives as looting spread across the capital, despite the deployment of army troops to restore order.
Witnesses reported gangs of youths, some on motorbikes, roaming the streets, looting supermarkets, shopping malls and shops on Saturday.
Some of the gangs also entered wealthy residential areas of the capital, and gunfire could be heard in the city centre as well as outlying districts.
Residents also said that banks were broken into and hundreds of young men carted away televisions, fans and stereo equipment looted from the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) near the Egyptian Museum, before setting the building alight.
The looting has prompted residents in some neighbourhoods, including the upscale Zamalek district in central Cairo, to set up vigilante groups to protect private property. Outside some apartment blocks, guards armed with machine guns had taken up posts.
In the Maadi area south of Cairo, neighbourhood mosques called on young men over loudspeakers to come down to the entrances of building and homes to ward off looters.
Naglaa Mahmoud, a Maadi resident, told the Associated Press that thugs were breaking cars and threatening to get into homes. She said even the ambulance service in the neighbourhood had abandoned their offices and accused the regime of planning the chaos by pulling out all of its police forces.
“All this seems to be prearranged. They are punishing us for asking for this change,” she said.
“What a shame he [Mubarak] doesn’t care for the people or anything. This is a corrupt regime.”
The military also urged local residents throughout the country to defend themselves from looters.
However, in the port city of Alexandria, residents called on the army to protect them, as well as organising their own committees in defence. Looting has also occurred in wealthy areas of Cairo,
Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros reporting from Suez, said that looting is widespread and that people have been walking into buildings and stealing objects.
“Residents here are pleading with the military to stop watching this happen, and act to enforce some security,” she said.
Soldiers enter museum
Meanwhile, soldiers have entered the Egyptian Museum in Cairo to secure it from looters, as anti-government protests continued in the capital in defiance of a curfew.
Early on Saturday morning, soldiers secured the museum and its grounds, located near some of the most intense of the mass anti-government protests in the capital.
The museum is home to priceless ancient artifacts, some dating back 5,000 years. Many artefacts lay damaged on the floor, but officials said nothing had been stolen.
Before the army arrived, young Egyptians – some armed with truncheons grabbed off the police – created a human chain at the museum’s front gate to prevent looters from making off with any of the artefacts.
Zahi Hawass, the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the would-be looters only managed to vandalise two mummies, ripping their heads off. They also cleared out the museum gift shop.
He said the museum’s prized King Tutankhamun exhibit, which includes the boy pharaoh’s gold death mask, had not been damaged and was safe.
However, the museum’s contents could still be damaged by the potential collapse of a neighbouring building gutted by fire, Hawass said.