‘It was a massacre’, witnesses to Cairo killings say
Investigation into events of July 8th points to co-ordinated assault by security forces on group of largely peaceful and unarmed civilians
“A young officer in a dark suit, who I believe was a state security officer, walked to me and told me to get up, and I said I couldn’t because I was injured. Then he put a rifle in my face and said: ‘Get up or I’ll kill you,” so I got up.”
Gharib says she was taken down the road and held – along with several other casualties – next to the same central security vehicle that she believes she was shot from. “On top of one vehicle was a CSF [central security forces, the police’s paramilitary wing] officer with the weapon I was shot with. I started to beg them, I said I was a mother, a university mother, let us get to the ambulance. But they did not have any mercy, they said the ambulances could not get there because of all the walls we’d built. They kept us there until the sun was up. The sun was already in the sky by the time they let us go.”
Some of those detained were not so lucky. Half a mile on either side of the sit-in stand two mosques – Mostafa to the west, and Sayeda Safiya to the east. That morning, many of the protesters from the sit-in had gathered in both. Nineteen-year-old Islam Lotfy – studying to be a pharmacist like his doctor father, Mohamed - was at the Mostafa mosque. At around 3.30am, Lotfy was in its bathrooms, washing his face. Suddenly, he heard the gunfire outside. Alarmed, he poked his head round the door to the courtyard outside the mosque. There he said he saw several policemen who ordered him back inside. Shortly afterwards, Lotfy said two rifles were poked through the bathroom windows. Despite, Lotfy said, having done nothing that morning except wash his face, he was about to be arrested.
“Someone came and broke the door,” Lotfy continued. “There were four of us inside. He ordered us outside, made us lie down on the ground and tied our hands with plastic strips.” Then they were led handcuffed to a police van.
“We had our heads down and so I didn’t see any shooting, [I could] just hear it,” Lotfy said. “Members of central security and police were bashing people’s cars on both sides of the street.” Lotfy said prosecutors would later attempt to frame the protesters for the police’s vandalism.
Inside the vehicle, Lotfy said it was hellish. “[It] was meant for 15 people, but there must have been 50 inside. It was very uncomfortable, people were passing out, and there was damp on the ceiling from people’s breathing.” Then the vehicle was driven inside the Republican Guard club, where the prisoners remained until 9am. “We thought that people were beginning to die, so we started banging on the sides,” said Lotfy. “Then they let us out, us and the other people from three other cars.”
A similar round-up had taken place at the Sayeda Safiya mosque. At the Mostafa mosque, only some of those inside were arrested - before the majority barricaded themselves inside. (Resident Mirna el-Helbawy was later adamant that two protesters climbed the minaret and began to fire on security forces.) But at the mosque, everyone was detained.
“To their surprise, a group of police surrounded the mosque,” alleged Khaled Nooruddin, a lawyer who is acting for the detainees. “The police ordered them very disrespectfully to walk out of the mosque in twos and to throw away their phones. They walked out of the mosque as if they were war criminals.”
Nooruddin said that like those taken from the Mostafa mosque, the 50-odd arrested protesters were crammed into a van meant for 15. Again, the protesters claimed that policemen vandalised nearby cars, perhaps in an attempt to frame them. Again, they said they were driven inside the Republican Guard club, where they had to bang on the side of the truck to be allowed fresh air. “At one point, they got them out, made them lie on the ground, and then walked on them in their military boots,” Nooruddin said of the police. “One of the officers came to one of the prisoners with a picture of Morsi and asked him who it was. When [the protester]said it was President Morsi, [the officer] said: ‘He’s not a president, he’s a sheep.’ And then he beat him [the protester] up.”
More than 600 people were arrested that Monday. Like many others, Lotfy was interned until Wednesday morning, denied legal representation – and charged with murder, attempted murder and possession of arms. “I’ve never done anything violent,” he said. “I didn’t throw any rocks. I was just protesting peacefully.”
Some of Lotfy’s fellow protesters undoubtedly did throw stones. By 4.30am, an hour after the shootings began, the action had almost entirely moved from Salah Salem Street to Tayaran Street. Army snipers fired on protesters from the road and from the roofs of nearby military buildings.
Hundreds of Islamists, fearing that security forces might attack the larger Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in, and outraged at their earlier treatment, set about hurling stones back at them. Some built barricades, others set tyres on fire to create smokescreens.
Time-stamped army footage given to the Guardian shows that from 4.59am, pro-Morsi streetfighters included at least three gunmen armed with simple single-shot firearms. At least half a dozen threw petrol bombs at security forces from ground level, while pro-Morsi supporters said that two men launched fireworks at the army, and that three men scaled the roof of one block of flats to throw more molotov cocktails. Footage also shows protesters throwing basins and toilet bowls off a roof.
But the army was still using excessive force against what was even then a largely unarmed group of protesters.
Military snipers continued picking off unarmed civilians. Footage shot by a journalist - Ahmed Assem, working for a newspaper linked to the Brotherhood – appears to show the moment of his own death at the hands of an army sniper.
Ibrahim Raof, another film-maker unaffiliated to the Brotherhood, said his unarmed brother, standing well back from the frontline, was hit by a sniper bullet that ricocheted off the ground into his stomach. Raof also reported, like several other protesters, that nearby hospitals were unwilling to treat the injured protesters for fear of retribution.“I carried [my brother] all the way to the [Rabba] field hospital,” said Raof. They stitched him up and Raof took him to two other Cairo hospitals, which refused to admit him. Raof added: “So then I had to drive him without any medical instruments all the way to 6 October [a city 10 miles west of Cairo] to the Zohour hospital.”
Hassem Mamdouh, a quietly spoken computer programmer who had been about to leave the sit-in by taxi when the attack started at 3.30am, also reported being targeted by army snipers - despite being comparatively far from the clashes. “They started to shoot at us who were standing further away,” said Mamdouh, who spent most of the streetfight wiping people’s faces with Pepsi, a makeshift teargas antidote. “I managed to duck down, but one person who was with us was shot because he did not take cover in time.”
Down near the bottom of Tayaran Street, Dr Khaled Abdel Latif – on leave from his day job as a surgeon at Zagazig hospital – had set up another tiny field hospital, in which three people died that day. Latif noted repeated abuse by the military and police, saying that officers made several attempts to storm the tent, that the overwhelming teargas in the area had made treatment at times impossible. As Latif finally left the tent at 7am – leaving behind one old man trying to resuscitate the body of his friend – police arrested his colleague Ashraf as he treated a patient. “You either come with me, or I shoot you,” the arrested doctor was told.
Fighting eventually stopped at around 7am, 3½ hours and 54 deaths later. But the killings did not end there. On Wednesday at 6am, the body of 37-year-old Farid Shawky, an engineer from Hurghada, was found dumped at the bottom of Tayaran Street. His body showed evidence of torture – electric shock marks on his nipples, wrists and ankles, and heavy bruising on his shoulders.
Adly Mansour, Egypt’s interim president, announced a judicial investigation into the killings, though previous inquiries have shown that the army is unwilling to submit itself to outside scrutiny. The military has been reluctant to give a full account of the incident. There is also a striking absence of critical reporting on it by Egyptian state and independent media, while pro-Brotherhood TV channels have been shut down.
In a highly charged and polarised political atmosphere, where there is widespread feeling that the Brotherhood has received its comeuppance and the military is immune from civil prosecution, there is growing outrage among the victims that the truth will never come out.
“I want to emphasise that this is a massacre,” said Zeid at the Rabaa field hospital this week. “Everyone we received had the same story. It’s impossible for them to agree to the same lie.”
Nursing his three gunshot wounds in a hospital in northeast Cairo, Moussa agreed. “If they’d just wanted to break the sit-in, they could have done it in other ways. But they wanted to kill us.”– (Guardian)