Mass Killing Shakes Egypt ; 51 Die as Army Opens Fire; Islamist Party Quits Talks for Interim Government

By David D Kirkpatrick; Kareem Fahim | International Herald Tribune, July 9, 2013 | Go to article overview

Mass Killing Shakes Egypt ; 51 Die as Army Opens Fire; Islamist Party Quits Talks for Interim Government


David D Kirkpatrick; Kareem Fahim, International Herald Tribune


At least 51 civilians were killed and more than 300 were wounded in Cairo on Monday, doctors and health officials said. Security officials said at least one police officer died as well.

Soldiers fired on hundreds of supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the ousted president, before dawn Monday as they were praying outside the facility where he was believed to be detained, dozens of witnesses said. Egypt's military said armed assailants fired on the soldiers first.

At least 51 civilians were killed, all or most of them shot, and more than 300 were wounded, doctors and health workers said. Security officials said at least one police officer died as well.

The mass shooting was the deadliest single episode of violence since the 2011 revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's longtime autocratic leader. It immediately escalated the nearly week-old confrontation between the generals who forced out Mr. Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, and Mr. Morsi's Islamist supporters in the streets.

In an early sign that the mass shooting had undercut important support for the military's ouster of Mr. Morsi, the country's top Muslim cleric, Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb, threatened to go into seclusion until the violence ended. The grand imam, who participated in talks on a post-Morsi transitional government, said in a statement broadcast on Egyptian state television: "I might be forced to enter into a retreat in my home until everyone takes responsibility for protecting the sanctity of blood and preventing the country from a civil war."

Mr. Morsi's Islamist supporters said that the generals who forced him out had now shown their authoritarian colors, using lethal force to crush dissent while holding captive the freely elected president, and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood renewed vows to die before accepting his ouster. Al Nour, the only Islamist party that had broken with the Brotherhood to back Mr. Morsi's military's takeover, called it a "massacre" and suspended its participation in the interim government, accelerating the disintegration of Egyptian politics into a culture war between Islamists and their foes.

The military said its soldiers had fired in response to an attack by gunmen from a "terrorist group" that had tried to storm the facility, according to Ahram Online, the Web site of Egypt's leading newspaper.

Dozens of Islamists who had gathered to hold a vigil for Mr. Morsi denied that there was any provocation for the attack. Two bystanders who had supported Mr. Morsi's ouster said that the demonstrators were unarmed and ran in terror as the attack began.

Bullet holes in cars, lampposts and metal barriers indicated that gunfire was coming from the top of a nearby building where the sandbag barriers around makeshift gun emplacements were visible. Bullet casings on the ground and collected by Islamist demonstrators bore the stamp of the Egyptian Army.

But Egyptian state television showed film of a pro-Morsi protester firing what appeared to be a homemade handgun at advancing soldiers from behind a corner about 230 meters, or 250 yards, away. The footage was in daylight, hours after the initial shooting began.

A witness who lived nearby said he saw two men with similar weapons among the protesters.

Another clip broadcast on state television, also in daylight and so hours after the attack had begun, showed a masked man among the Morsi supporters.

The protesters, witnesses and video footage all appeared to portray the pro-Morsi demonstrators as trying to fight back against by throwing rocks.

Early in the morning, Egyptian state media sent out a news alert saying that an army lieutenant had been killed and 200 "armed individuals" captured, then hours later reported that there were also dozens of civilian casualties.

There were pools of blood on the pavement. Some of the blood and bullet holes were hundreds of meters from the walls of the facility's guard house, suggesting that the soldiers had continued firing as the demonstrators fled. …

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