Egyptian soldiers mistakenly kill 12 in tourist convoy
Egypt's police and military mistakenly killed 12 Egyptians and Mexicans and injured 10 when they accidentally shot at a Mexican tourist convoy while engaging militants in the country's western desert.
"A joint force from the police and military, whilst chasing terrorist elements in the oasis area of the Western Desert tonight, accidentally engaged four four-wheel drives belonging to a Mexican tourist group," the Ministry of Interior said yesterday in a statement.
"The incident resulted in the death of 12 Mexicans and Egyptians and the injury of 10 others who have been transferred to hospitals. The area they were in was off limits to foreign tourists."
The incident took place in the Bahariya Oasis, about 400km south-west of Cairo.
Mexican Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu has been assured by Ministry of Interior that a full investigation will take place.
Amr Imam, a relative of Awad Fathi (37), manager of an eco hotel in the western desert and the tour guide of the trip, who was killed, said that the incident took place on Sunday at 4pm. However, he alleged that security forces had tried to cover it up until he posted on Twitter what happened.
He said that the convoy consisted of French and Mexican tourists and eight members of the tour company.
The Ministry of Interior said that the convoy had parked in a restricted zone, but Mr Imam claimed they had parked the SUV cars on the main road and walked about 500 metres into the desert to have lunch when they were targeted.
"The area they were camping in was not a restricted zone," Mr Imam said. "The corpses are still laying in the desert. Awad's brothers were trying to reach it, but they were told by the security that prosecution must review it first."
The ministry did not give the exact number killed, or indicate whether the vehicles were targeted by automatic weapons or aerial bombardment.
The Mexican Foreign Ministry later said in a statement that two Mexican nationals had been killed.
"For the moment, we regrettably confirm the death of two Mexican nationals in this incident," the ministry said in a statement.
The Mexican ambassador has visited five other nationals who were injured in the attack and are being treated at the Dar al-Fouad Hospital in a western Cairo suburb. They are in a stable condition.
Mexican president Pena Nieto condemned the attack and called for an investigation.
"Mexico has demanded an exhaustive investigation about what happened from the government of Egypt," he said.
The attack is yet another sign of growing instability in the Arab world's most populous country.
Egypt's western oases - Bahariya, Dakhla, Kharga and Farafra - are spectacularly beautiful, hence their popularity with today's adventure tourists.
However, since the Arab Spring upheavals of 2011, security along Egypt's border with Libya has deteriorated as the Islamist insurgency has grown across the country. Vast stretches of both the Sinai Peninsula and the Western Desert are now too dangerous for Westerners.
Last month Isil militants beheaded a Croatian engineer they had kidnapped not far from Cairo.
Now the possibility of being mistakenly shot at by the authorities, as well as being kidnapped by militants, will further damage Egypt's much depleted tourism revenues.