Irish citizens leave besieged Cairo mosque

Four Halawa siblings understood to be safe after Egyptian security forces storm building

Sat, Aug 17, 2013, 18:38

Four Irish citizens have left a Cairo mosque that had been occupied by Islamist supporters of the country’s ousted president.

Egyptian security forces stormed the al-Fateh Mosque in the Ramses area after exchanging gunfire with those insside.

Omaima Halawa (21), her two sisters Somaia (27) and Fatima (23) along with their brother Ibrihim (17) sought refuge from violent clashes yesterday during a “Day of Rage” called by the Muslim Brotherhood. Their father is Hussein Halawa - the Imam of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh in Dublin.

Video: Omaima Halawa speaks from the mosque

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the four are believed to be unharmed. It is unclear whether or not they are being held by security forces. He said Irish officials are continuing to liaise with the family and Egyptian authorities.

Egypt’s official news agency Mena reported that gunmen opened fire on security forces from the mosque’s minaret. Local television stations broadcast live footage of soldiers firing assault rifles at the minaret. Security forces reportedly rounded up protesters inside the mosque.

The protesters had barricaded themselves inside overnight out of fears of being beaten by vigilante mobs or being arrested by authorities. The mosque served as a field hospital and morgue following clashes yesterday in the area.

The interior ministry said 173 people died in clashes across Egypt yesterday, bringing the death toll from three days of carnage to almost 800.

Omaima Halawa spoke to The Irish Times from inside the mosque this afternoon as gunshots were being fired.

She said the mosque was surrounded by security forces, who had told everyone inside that they would be shot if they tried to flee the besieged building. She said they had been teargassed by police.

“We’re still surrounded inside the mosque, it is unsafe, they are not letting us leave,” she said. “People have been injured they have been firing at the mosque all night.”

Ms Halawa said t one woman has also died inside the mosque. She said those inside asked police to let her leave but were then refused. She also said they asked for medical treatment for the woman but were also refused.

She said tear gas bombs have been thrown inside the building, where they have been sheltering since yesterday evening. They have received no food and very little water since being there.

She called on the police to let them out peacefully. “We don’t want anything else. We have no hidden agenda,” she said. “There are many of us in here and we are all peaceful protesters.”