Egypt's military junta fired CS gas
cartridges made by Combined Systems Inc of Pennsylvania, say
The teargas used
by interior ministry troops in Cairo's Tahrir Square is supplied by a US
company. Demonstrators say cartridges retrieved from the scene are branded with
the name and address of Combined Systems Inc (CSI).
The firm is
located in Jamestown, Pennsylvania. It specialises in supplying what it calls
"crowd control devices" to armies and "homeland security agencies" around the
world. It also manufactures lethal military equipment.
the CS gas seems more powerful than that used by Egyptian police during the
country's last popular uprising in February. "It's stronger, it burns your face,
it makes you feel like your whole body is seizing up," one witness said. He
added: "It doesn't seem to be combated by Coke or
Experts told the
Guardian the gas was likely to be standard CS gas, but the effects could be
exacerbated by physical exertion.
As well as the
effects of the teargas, protesters have suffered grave injuries to their heads
and faces from rubber bullets. There are also reports of live ammunition being
used. Dozens of people have been taken to makeshift hospitals after inhaling the
choking gas fired by the Central Security Forces.
The export of
teargas to foreign law enforcement agencies is not prohibited. CSI has also sold
teargas to the Israeli police, where it has been deployed against Palestinian
demonstrators, as well as, reportedly, to the regime of Tunisia's ousted
dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Nevertheless, the revelation that people are
being gassed and hurt by US-manufactured projectiles is embarrassing for the
"We have seen
the illegitimate and indiscriminate use of teargas," Heba Morayef, a researcher
with Human Rights Watch in Cairo, said, of Egypt's most recent street
protests, as well as the original revolution in February. "There are a few
cartridges from Italy but the vast majority are from the
She said teargas
did not constitute direct military aid, since it was sold to the interior
ministry rather than the army. But she added: "Ideally governments should be
verifying who they are selling teargas to."
Morayef said the
gas was having a devastating effect on its victims, with everyone left choking,
and hundreds forced to seek medical treatment. Protesters have also retrieved
12mm rubber bullet cartridges made in Italy. "One person I know ended up
coughing up blood," she said. Human
Rights Watch intended to examine the canisters to discover exactly what kind of
gas was being used, she added.
professor of environmental toxicology at Leeds University, said police in Cairo
were almost certainly using conventional CS gas. "It's a standard riot control
agent which has been around for a very long time," he
Hay said its
effects were extremely unpleasant. "It's an eye and respiratory tract irritant,
largely. It will also cause skin irritation."
compound used in CS gas – 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile – was "perfectly
legitimate", with many commercial companies involved in selling it, and domestic
governments willing to make use of it in riot situations, he
US army trials
showed CS gas had a far more serious effect on people taking part in physical
activity than those sitting passively, sometimes leaving its victims needing
intensive care afterwards. The way to get rid of it was "constant irrigation" to
wash away the affected areas, Hay said.
There was no
immediate comment from CSI.
website says it was founded in 1981. It adds: "Combined Systems Inc (CSI) is a
US-based firm that supports military forces and law enforcement agencies around
the world. CSI is a premier engineering, manufacturing and supply company of
tactical munitions and crowd control devices globally to armed forces, law
enforcement, corrections and homeland security agencies.
"[…] In addition
to its military products, CSI markets its innovative line of less lethal
munitions, tactical munitions and crowd-control products to domestic law
enforcement agencies under its law enforcement brand name, CTS. CSI also
supports its wide base of international military and law enforcement customers
with its line of non-lethal munitions."
State Department Approved Export of U.S.-Made
Tear Gas to Egyptian Gov’tFeb. 4, 2011, 5:12 p.m.
The American-made tear gas used to disperse pro-democracy protesters in Egypt
earlier this week was sold to the country after government review, a State
Department spokeswoman told us.
The tear gas canisters used by Egyptian police against the protesters bore
the label “Made
in U.S.A. ,” stirring controversy and
bolstering the impression among Egyptians that the United States has propped
up a dictatorship  at the expense of its
Two government agencies, the Department of State and Department of Commerce,
regulate the export of tear gas by granting export licenses allowing U.S.
manufacturers to sell tear gas to foreign buyers. The State spokeswoman, Nicole
Thompson, said she didn’t immediately know when the approval was given for
The chemical compounds in the tear gas determine whether it’s State or
Commerce that’s responsible for licensing the product. In general, the State
Department licenses the export of defense items—including military-grade tear
gas—as spelled out on its Munitions
List . The Commerce Department licenses the
export of tear gas formulations that are considered “dual use”—that is, for
either military or civilian purposes—as well as products considered strictly
The tear gas canisters photographed in Egypt and Tunisia appear to have been
manufactured by Combined Systems
Inc . The company did not respond to our
requests for comment. A spokesman for the company had previously told CNN that
it operates well
within the law  by selling tear gas to
countries like Tunisia and Egypt.
CNN also reported that labels
on the tear gas canisters  found in both
countries read, “Danger: Do not fire directly at person(s). Severe injury or
death may result.” According to CNN, a 32-year-old photographer in Tunisia died
recently after he was hit by a tear gas grenade at close range.
In the case of the tear gas used in Egypt, the State Department confirmed to
me that it approved the sale of tear gas as a direct commercial sale between the
manufacturer and the government of Egypt, as opposed to a
As part of a multi-agency approval process, the State Department said it
takes a number of issues into consideration, including whether the purchaser
could use it in a way that violates human rights.
“We want to ensure that when a defense article is being sold to a government,
say the government of Egypt, we want to make sure it’s not going to fall in
hands of another government … or any individual or organization who wants to do
harm,” explained Thompson.
So, why did the State Department license the sale of American-made tear gas
to be used by the Egyptian police, when the State Department itself has
documented the police’s
history of brutality ? When I asked this
question, I received the following response, in full:
The US government licensed the sale of certain crowd dispersal articles to
the government of Egypt. That license was granted after a thorough vetting
process and after a multi-agency review of the articles that were
Noticeably absent in that answer was anything about the Egyptian police. When
I pressed further and mentioned this WikiLeaks
cable —written by U.S. Ambassador Margaret
Scobey describing “routine and pervasive” police brutality and torture in
Egypt—the response was immediate.
“I cannot provide any authentication of anything that has been published by
the website WikiLeaks,” Thompson said.