Islamists, security forces trade gunfire in Cairo mosque standoff

AFP: Security forces surround Cairo mosque where 1,000 backers of deposed Islamist president have barricaded themselves; Drama comes one day after scores killed in more violence.

August 17, 2013 10:06
4 minute read.
Anti-Morsi protesters gather near Al-Fath mosque in Cairo

Anti-Morsi protesters gather near Al-Fath mosque in Cairo 37. (photo credit: Reuters)

CAIRO - Gunmen and members of the Egyptian security forces exchanged fire on Saturday in a Cairo square where dozens of supporters of deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi were shot dead the day before, Reuters journalists said.

Footage broadcast by the privately-owned CBC station appeared to show someone firing from the minaret of the Al-Fath mosque in Ramses Square, where protests against the army-backed government had converged on Friday.

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CBC said the exchange was between members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the police, though there was no way to confirm the identity of the gunmen independently.

A Cairo mosque where Morsi supporters have barricaded themselves has become the latest focal point of the military-backed regime’s ruthless crackdown.

According to the AFP news agency, Egyptian security forces have surrounded the Al-Fath mosque in the Ramsis section of the capital on Saturday morning, where over 1,000 followers of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood are said to be holed up.

Hundreds of anti-government protesters in Egypt have reportedly left the Al-Fath mosque in Cairo. According to Israel Radio, local media are reporting that security forces fired tear gas into the mosque and that hundreds of pro-Morsi protesters left.

Reports indicate that authorities are trying to convince the remaining Islamists who have been holed up in the mosque to leave. The protesters, however, are demanding that security forces pledge that no harm comes to them if they surrender.

Media reports indicate that witnesses heard gunfire throughout the night in the vicinity of the mosque.

Israel’s Hebrew-language Walla! Internet site cited Egyptian media reports as saying that the military entered the mosque after hours in which it held negotiations with Morsi backers.

According to AFP, Egyptian government officials and Islamist supporters accuse each other of opening fire in the mosque. AFP reported that security forces offered to allow the women in the mosque to go free while the men would agree to questioning, but this proposal was rejected by the protesters.

AFP cites the MENA news agency as saying that “armed elements are shooting security forces and police from inside the mosque.”

Morsi Supporters protest near Ennour Mosque in Cairo August 16, 2013. (Reuters)

Egyptian authorities arrested 1,004 "elements" of the Muslim Brotherhood during nationwide protests on Friday, the interior ministry said on Saturday.

An Interior Ministry statement said Brotherhood members had committed acts of terrorism during the demonstrations.

Meanwhile, Israel Radio cited an Al Jazeera report on Saturday indicating that over 200 Egyptians were killed on Friday, though this figure has not been confirmed by other sources. Numerous media outlets reported on Friday that Egyptian authorities have forbidden the Health Ministry from reporting exact casualty figures in the military’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Foreign media outlets considered sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood continue to spread rumors about the Egyptian strongman who has led the campaign against Morsi supporters, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. According to Israel Radio, al-Sisi has been denounced as an “infidel” and “the son of a Jewish mother from Morocco” by Islamist backers in London.

Egyptian security forces, meanwhile, accuse Brotherhood operatives of plotting terrorist attacks against the country’s ports, universities, and the Suez Canal, according to Israel Radio.

Sources told the Arab-language daily Al-Yom al-Saba’a that Egypt’s defense agencies thwarted these plots which “were the tip of the iceberg.”

The Muslim Brotherhood defiantly called for a week of protests across Egypt starting on Saturday, a day after more than 100 people died in clashes between Islamists and the security forces that pushed the country ever closer to anarchy.

Undeterred by the bloodshed in which about 700 have been killed since Wednesday, the Brotherhood urged its supporters back onto the streets to denounce the overthrow of Morsi and a crackdown on his followers.

"Our rejection of the coup regime has become an Islamic, national and ethical obligation that we can never abandon," said the Brotherhood, which has accused Egypt's military of plotting the downfall of Morsi last month to regain the levers of power.

Many Western allies have denounced the killings, including the United States, but Saudi Arabia threw its weight behind the army-backed government on Friday, accusing its old foe the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to destabilize Egypt.

Violence erupted across Egypt after the Brotherhood, which has deep roots in the provinces, called for a "Day of Rage". Roughly 50 people died in Cairo and more than 20 in the country's second city, Alexandria, security sources said. Al Jazeera reported that more than 95 people had been killed in Cairo alone.

A son of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie was killed in Cairo during Friday's protests, the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party said.

Ammar Badie, 38, died of a bullet wound sustained while taking part in protests in Ramses Square, it said on its Facebook page.

The whereabouts of Mohamed Badie, who is the Islamist movement's General Guide, are unknown. He has been charged with inciting violence and faces a trial that starts on Aug. 25. His son's death follows the killing of the daughter of Mohamed El-Beltagi, a senior Brotherhood politician, in protests this week.

Egyptian state TV also reported on Saturday that the son of Hassan Malek, another Brotherhood leader, had been arrested.

Police also detained Brotherhood politician Gamal Heshmat, according to a statement from the Anti Coup Alliance. Heshmat is a leading member of the Freedom and Justice Party.

Automatic gunfire echoed around the capital throughout Friday afternoon, army helicopters swooped over the roof tops and at least one office block was set ablaze, lighting up the night sky long after the violence had subsided.

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