CAIRO — Cairo residents boarded up homes and set up neighborhood watches armed with guns, clubs and knives Saturday as looting engulfed the capital, despite the deployment of army troops to restore order.RELATED:Thousands of Egyptian protesters defy curfew in CairoEditorial: A region in fermentGallery: Anti-government protests rock Egypt
Residents reported gangs of youths, some on motorbikes, roaming the streets, looting supermarkets, shopping malls and shops. Some of the gangs made it to affluent residential areas in the suburbs, breaking into luxury homes and apartments. The crack of gunfire could be heard in the city center as well as outlying districts.
Just after midnight on Saturday, witnesses said police shot dead 17 people who tried to attack two police stations in the Beni Suef governorate, south of Cairo, Reuters reported.
According to the report, 12 of the victims attempted to attack a police station in Biba, while the five others tried to attack another station in Nasser city. Dozens were reported injured in the confrontations.
The situation had spiraled far enough out of control by dusk Saturday that the army was deploying reinforcements across the city to restore order and prevent looting, state TV said.
The looting, which has spread despite a 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. curfew, has
prompted residents in some neighborhoods, 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 well-heeled Maadi neighborhood in south Cairo, neighborhood
mosques called on young men over loudspeakers to come down to the
entrances of building and homes to ward off looters.
Naglaa Mahmoud, a 37-year-old Maadi resident, said thugs were breaking
cars and threatening to get into homes. She said even the ambulance
service in the neighborhood 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 Egyptian Defense Ministry appealed to young Egyptians to stand up to looters.
Ministry spokesman Ismail Othman added that the armed forces will deal
with them, and is committed to safeguarding Egypt.
Othman also warned against violating the curfew, saying the military will deal firmly with those caught breaking the curfew.