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.
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.
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 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.