Irish News

Sunday 13 July 2014

Prayers for detained siblings

Published 19/08/2013|12:47

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Ibrihim Halawa with sisters Fatima, Omaima and Somaia who were among hundreds of people forced to leave the Al Fateh mosque in Cairo

The family of four Irish siblings detained by Egyptian authorities are "hoping and praying" they will return home within days.

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As the three young women and their teenage brother were due to attend a prosecutor's office with Irish officials, their sister Nosayba Halawa said she still has grave concerns for their safety.

"We are just wishing and hoping and praying that they will arrive back today or tomorrow," said Ms Halawa, at the family home in Firhouse, south Dublin.

"We have been told that they are safe but that doesn't mean they haven't been harmed or beaten."

Sisters Omaima, 20, Fatima, 22, and Somaia, 27, and their 17-year-old brother Ibrihim, were caught up in violence in Cairo and jailed in Tora prison.

They had been among hundreds of people cleared out of the Al Fateh mosque when security forces stormed the building on Saturday.

The Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed the siblings yesterday met a Turkish diplomat, who said they were safe and in good health.

Egyptian authorities at a prosecutor's office will now decide whether to release the three women and the teenager from prison and allow them to return home.

As dozens of protesters gathered at the Egyptian Embassy in Dublin demanding the Halawas' immediate release, their sister said the family had been left devastated.

Ms Halawa said her father Sheikh Hussein Halawa - the imam of Ireland's largest mosque - was trying to find hope.

"He's trying to be strong and trying to get something to give him hope, but it's hard," she said.

"He's always praying and I pray for them too, that they will get home as quickly as possible and that they are not harmed."

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs Joe Costello confirmed the Halawa siblings were "in good health".

He said the Turkish diplomat who spoke to the family in Tora yesterday confirmed they had all been kept together.

"We will find out today what the attitudes of the authorities are towards the Halawas and we will be able to inform their father and sister back in Ireland," Mr Costello said.

"It's good news that the Turkish diplomat spoke to them as late as yesterday and it's a relief to hear that they are in good form and that they have been kept together.

"That was a big concern, that they may have been separated. But we'll find out the attitude of the authorities today and we'll move from there."

Teenager Ibrihim completed his Leaving Certificate before the summer and was due to receive his college and university offers from CAO today.

Ms Halawa claimed all the men at the prison had been "beaten to hell", saying she feared for her brother's life.

She said she believes the Egyptian authorities were trying to "plan a charge" for their detainees and that they would not hesitate to kill anyone.

Meanwhile, senior European diplomats are meeting in Brussels today to discuss the crisis in Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood has claimed that dozens of detainees were killed overnight.

It is understood that some may have suffocated in the back of a truck as they were being transported to a prison.

Tear gas was fired and heavy gunfire was heard before the mosque, in the Ramses area of Cairo, was cleared on Saturday.

The Halawa siblings have made no direct contact with their family since. It is understood their mobile phones were seized.

It is also understood that the siblings' mother, who is staying with relatives in Egypt, had been contacted by a woman who had seen Omaima in one of the detention centres.

The Halawas had travelled to Egypt earlier this summer for a holiday and were joined by their mother a fortnight ago.

They were forced to seek sanctuary in the Al Fateh mosque on Friday after violent clashes between supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi and the security forces killed around 80 people. More than 800 people have died in the carnage that has followed a military crackdown over the past five days.

Later, a spokesman at the Department of Foreign Affairs said: "Officials are continuing with efforts to try to gain access to visit the siblings.

"We are in contact with the Egyptian authorities in that regard."

Confusion surrounds whether the Halawas appeared before a prosecutor today.

It is understood the three women and teenage boy remain in detention, but it is unclear whether they have seen a lawyer or an Irish official as suggested by a Turkish diplomat.

Press Association

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