A British tourist feared ‘being handed over to ISIS’ when he was detained in an Egyptian cell measuring just 8×6 for 75 hours after security forces mistook his homemade iPod amplifier for a bomb as he tried to board flight home to the UK.
Egypt is among six countries where on flights from the Middle East to the United States and Britain carry-on laptops and tablets are banned. Father-of-three, Robert Lapham, 54 and his wife Julie who are regular visitors to Egypt, were holidaying in Marsa Alam and were returning to the UK on the first day of the ban.
When his headphone amplifier was picked up by security, Robert was taken on a 240km drive by the security services. Robert told the Daily Mail ‘To start with, they weren’t saying anything, which made it a lot more scary. Ours was the first flight out of Marsa Alam with the new rules and they were obviously on top of it, there was a woman from the British Embassy there checking everything was okay.’
‘They saw my amplifier, which is an Altoid tin which opens up containing batteries, and were really interested in it – not in a good way. I showed them what it was and how it worked, but more and more people got involved, and suddenly there were 12 officers.’
‘We were taken off to one side, away from everyone, and put in a different part of terminal. I was put in a corridor upstairs on my own, and the airport manager came and saw me and said it was serious and they had to get the police involved.”
Robert was then escorted to a van, where he was driven to a police station with five national security guards. While there is no reason to believe he was in danger – or that he would have been handed to ISIS – Robert says he feared for his life when they suddenly stopped in the middle of the desert.
“When they stopped my mind went numb, I was told nothing and they would not speak to me,” he recounted to Kent Live.
“I was absolutely terrified. It started me thinking I could possibly be shot. I really thought I’d be shot, I had visions of being handed over to ISIS and becoming the next James Foley”
‘But they just had a chat and then drove back the other way – 80km to the police station in Marsa Alam itself – without saying a word on the way.”
‘When we got there, the guy in charge just went in, handed over some paperwork, and then we drove 140km to El Quseir.”
‘There was a state prosecutor waiting at 3.30am, and he convened and held a hearing.”
Robert recalled that he was lucky that he had the time to find the eBay advert where he had bought amplifier and the prosecutor could see what it was. The prosecutor told him that it was “nothing to worry about, no problem, everything’s ok”
After the hearing Robert was spent almost three days in a tiny prison cell as a matter of ‘procedure’. His “heart sank” when he saw the tiny 8×6 prison cell, however, he was looked after by five Syrian men who had been in the cell for five months. Robert told the Kent Live that he cannot stop thinking about their act of kindness.
“They were in such a difficult situation but they just seemed to be getting through it.”
“I could not believe it. They were so lovely and shared their food and drink with me.”
In the meantime, his wife Julie had been waiting at the hotel, where Robert says she had been “just sat waiting, crying her eyes out”.
After three days, Robert was released and allowed to fly home. But despite the terrifying ordeal, the couple told their local newspaper, Kent Live, that they would still travel back to Egypt.
“We love the country, the snorkelling and diving and the people are great. This incident was something unfortunate,”