"We just want to go home" - Irish citizen trapped in Cairo
Four Irish citizens who were trapped in a mosque overnight in Cairo during a holiday, have spoken of their terror at being barricaded inside the premises.
Omaima, 21, and her sister Fatima Halawa, 23, were taken by Egyptian security forces when they left a mosque stormed by the Egyptian army, they told their family before their phones were seized.
The four siblings feared for their safety, claiming they have been threatened with "slaughter" if they left the mosque in Cairo.
Abaihim Halawa (17), and sisters Fatima (19), Omaia (21) and Somaya (28) were stranded inside the al-Fatah mosque in Cairo overnight.
The whereabouts of the other two siblings Somaia, 27, and Ibrihim, 17, is unclear.
Earlier, Egyptian security forces have stormed a Cairo mosque after firing tear gas at hundreds of Islamists supporters of the country's ousted president barricaded inside.
Local journalist Shaimaa Awad said security forces rounded up protesters inside al-Fath mosque, located in Cairo's central Ramses Square.
It's understood that gunfire was exchanged between those inside the mosque and Eyptian security forces.
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.
The mosque served as a field hospital and morgue following clashes on Friday in the area. The protesters barricaded themselves inside overnight out of fears of being beaten by vigilante mobs or being arrested by authorities.
Earlier another sister, Fatima, told Al Jazeera television from inside the mosque that the women who left had been taken hostage by police forces and those left behind feared for their lives:
“Every few seconds we have people trying to attack us. If the security forces were protecting I would be able to leave now,” she said.
Speaking about the police forces she said: “How can I trust them when they are saying if you come out I will slaughter you?”
She also dismissed reports that a woman feared dead in the mosque died as a result of an accidental discharge of a fire extinguisher - rather than a tear gas canister exploding after being thrown into the building.
“These were tear gas bombs,” she said, audibly distressed. “I am a live witness”, she said. “She died right in front of my eyes.”
“We just want to leave. We just want to go home. All we want to do is to leave peacefully.”
“I am not holding any weapons. I walked around this mosque, none of the people here have weapons.”
“I am asking to leave peacefully,” she said.
Speaking to the Irish Independent this morning, the children’s father, Sheikh Hussein Halawa said they had have no food or water, and fear for their safety.
The family went to Egypt for a holiday at the start of the summer along with their mother, while their father stayed at home. Sheikh Hussein Halawa, Imam of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, in Clonskeagh, South Dublin, is one of Ireland's most prominent Muslim leaders.
“They had to enter the al-Fath Mosque for security. They thought the curfew was starting at 9pm. They didn’t realise it was 7pm,” their father said earlier this morning.
“When they got to the underground, it was closed and so they had go back to the mosque for security.
“They are without food, without water, without anything,” he said.
“They’ve been told that if they go outside they will be killed.
“My daughter told me that the police were inside the mosque, they had entered the Mosque, and there was tear gas,” he said.
Meanwhile, their family in Ireland are doing all they can.
“I have been on the phone with them throughout the night,” he said.
Speaking to RTE’s Aine Lawlor this morning, Omaia said she was threatened she would be “slaughtered” if she left the mosque.
The 21-year-old said that she was not prepared to leave the mosque unless an Irish diplomat went there personally to guarantee them safe passage.
Omaia said they are surrounded by security forces and unidentified “thugs”, who she claimed are being supported by the army.
“We are surrounded in the Mosque, by the thugs around us. They are attempting to break in every few minutes,” she said in the interview this morning.
She claimed the security forces were in front of the “thugs”.
“They are [also] behind the thugs – they are basically protecting the thugs.
“We are not safe to leave. I do not trust the security forces. They are co-ordinating with the thugs and I am not ready to leave, no,” she said.
When asked about what it was like inside the mosque, she said: “They’re very critical conditions. There are injured people here. There is not enough medical... to take care of all of them.
“There are kids who are hungry, we haven’t had anything to eat since yesterday. There is no food, the water is very rare and it’s a very critical condition.”
She said they had spoken to the Irish Ambassador and claimed the embassy were negotiating with the army for their safe passage out of the mosque.
“However, I’m sorry but I do not trust unless one of the ambassadors [diplomatic representatives] come to the mosque and escort us.
“Other than that I will not leave as I do not trust the security forces, nor the thugs, nor the army forces,” she said.
Omaia said they were in Cairo yesterday as part of a peaceful protest but ended up having to take shelter in the mosque for safety.
“Well we were in a peaceful demonstration, suddenly there were live bullets shot at us so we ended up coming to the Mosque.
“Then one of the security forces and the thugs started pushing forward, pushing forward until they came into the mosque and people were surrounded in the mosque.”
She claimed that tear gas was thrown into the mosque and “there has been a lady who died from the tear gas that was thrown at us inside the mosque”.
Omaia also claimed that she had been threatened.
“They have personally threatened me, looked at me in the eye, and said they will slaughter me if I go out.
“Security forces are backing them up – they are aware of what is going on. They are co-ordinating with the thugs,” she said.
“There are still constant break-in attempts at the moment. They’re willing to enter, they are threatening us all around the mosque through the windows.”
Earlier today, the army escorted a number of women from the mosque.
“But the girls that left the mosque thinking they would be safe, they were taken out and attacked,” Omaia claimed.
It was for this reason, she said, that she was not prepared to leave unless a diplomat from the Irish Embassy attended the scene.
Omaia also said they were running out of ways to communicate with their family as the battery in their mobile phones are about to die.
The situation for the four siblings continues to worsen as chaos and unrest spread across Egypt, with scenes of violence and protests in Cairo and Alexandria.
Earlier today, supporters of Egypt's ousted Islamist president are vowing to defy a state of emergency with new protests today, the day after marches in Cairo devolved into the fiercest street battles that the capital has seen in more than two years.
More than 80 people were killed yesterday in what the Muslim Brotherhood group called a "Day of Rage" - ignited by anger at security forces for clearing two sit-in demonstrations earlier in the week, leaving hundreds dead. Police and armed vigilantes at neighbourhood checkpoints battled Muslim Brotherhood-led protesters, with the sight of residents firing at one another marking a dark turn in the conflict.
Military helicopters hovered over the centre of the city as residents furious with the Brotherhood protests pelted marchers with rocks and glass bottles. The two sides also fired on one another, sparking running street battles throughout the capital's residential neighbourhoods.
Across the country, at least 72 civilians were killed, along with 10 police officers, security officials said.
The violence capped off a week that saw more than 700 people killed across the country - surpassing the combined death toll from two and a half years of violent protests since the ousting of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak until the toppling of president Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood, in a July 3 coup.