Egypt admits 36 Islamist detainees were killed

Government acknowledges that its security forces killed 36 Islamists in its custody

Supporters of Mohammed Morsi, the ousted Egyptian president, wait for the Metro in the Maadi neighborhood to travel closer to Cairo city centre to continue their demonstration yesterday. Photograph: Bryan Denton/The New York Times

Supporters of Mohammed Morsi, the ousted Egyptian president, wait for the Metro in the Maadi neighborhood to travel closer to Cairo city centre to continue their demonstration yesterday. Photograph: Bryan Denton/The New York Times

Mon, Aug 19, 2013, 08:24

The Egyptian government acknowledged that its security forces killed 36 Islamists in its custody yesterday, as the country’s military leaders and Islamists vowed to keep up their fight over Egypt’s future.

The deaths were the fourth mass killing of civilians since the military took control on July 3rd, but the first time so many had died while in government custody.

The news of the deaths came on a day in which there appeared to be a pause in the street battles that have claimed more than 1,000 lives since Wednesday, most of them Islamists and their supporters gunned down by security forces. The Islamists took measures yesterday to avoid confrontations, including canceling several protests over the ouster of a democratically elected Islamist-led government.

While confirming the killings of the detainees yesterday, the Ministry of the Interior said the deaths were the consequence of an escape attempt by Islamist prisoners.

But officials of the main Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, described the deaths as “assassinations,” and said the victims, which it said numbered 52, had been shot and tear-gassed through the windows of the locked prison van.

The killings were the latest indication that Egypt is careering into uncharted territory, with neither side willing to back down, Egyptians increasingly split over the way forward and no obvious political solution in sight. The government is considering banning the Brotherhood, which might force the group underground but would not unravel it from the fabric of society it has been part of for eight decades.

Foreign governments also remain divided over the increasingly bloody showdown. US officials said they had taken preliminary steps to withhold financial aid to the Egyptian government, though not crucial military aid, and the European Union announced yesterday that it would “urgently review” its relations with the country, saying the interim government bore the responsibility for bringing violence to an end.

But the Egyptian military retains the support of the oil-rich states of the Persian Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have pledged billions in aid to the new government.

Although it appeared that security forces were more restrained yesterday- with no immediate reports of killings in the streets - Major General Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, the country’s military leader, spoke out on national television in defiant and uncompromising tones, condemning the Islamists again as “terrorists,” but promising to restore democracy to the country.

The Muslim Brotherhood had announced that it would stage nine protest marches in and around Cairo yesterday as part of its “week of departure” campaign that began Friday to protest the military’s deposing of the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi.

All but three of the marches were cancelled, and even those that continued were re-routed to avoid snipers who were waiting ahead, along with bands of pro-government thugs, the police and the military, some in tanks.

New York Times