Call for uprising as 51 die in mosque massacre
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood called for a national uprising in response to the deaths of more than 50 supporters of deposed president Mohammed Morsi, who were shot dead at a sit-in.
The army said it acted with "wisdom and prudence" after the headquarters of the Republican Guard was, it claimed, attacked by Muslim Brotherhood supporters who believe Mr Morsi is being held there.
But witnesses described being overwhelmed by tear gas and then coming under fire from all sides as protesters camped out in front of the base peacefully finished their dawn prayers at about 3.30am.
"People were still kneeling and suddenly we found that police were approaching and firing tear gas," said Mustafa Gamal (21), a law student.
Mohammed Hassan (36), an agricultural engineer, said: "The police were shooting at us from one side and the army from the other. The guards standing in front of the base were shooting. I saw two people being killed. The bullets entered their head and came out the side."
A Brotherhood spokesman said the number of deaths had risen to 55, although – in contrast to earlier reports – she could not confirm that any were women or children. The official death toll was 51 people killed and 435 wounded.
Witnesses, some from inside the cordon of protesters and some who lived nearby, said there had been clashes before the shooting started. The reports raised questions about who had fired first – many agreed the first trouble was near the Al-Mostafa mosque 400 metres away.
Ahmed al-Nashar, a Brotherhood activist who collated reports from survivors, said the perimeter of the protest had been attacked by "thugs" acting in support of the military as the prayers ended, but that they were initially repelled by protesters with sticks and stones.
The "thugs" had then opened fire, he said, prompting soldiers to join in – or perhaps to respond. "They could not distinguish between protesters and the thugs," he said.
"We heard shouts of 'Allahu Akbar' and the sound of people running, so we went on to the balcony to see what was happening," said Mirna el-Helbawi ( 21), who lives on the 14th floor of a block of flats nearby.
"The police and army threw tear gas. Then the pro-Morsi people threw stones. There were running battles, right below my window. They were totally wild clashes."
She said she then saw "pro-Morsi people" shooting from the top of the mosque. "The troops ran away, but then came back not long after, and they fired at the pro-Morsi people," she said.
Large numbers fell where they stood. Mr Gamal said that even some of those who were still sleeping were killed. "It was a massacre by any account – every minute, five or six people were falling," he said. "I saw 10 people fall around me."
He said that as the base entrance faced in the direction of Mecca, many of those killed were facing that way to pray and had their backs to the shooting.
In the darkness flashes, palls of tear gas and the sounds of shots competed in creating confusion.
Ahmed Maher (36) said he was shot by a soldier five times, including twice in the face, as he tried to help another man who had been shot in the head, leg and chest.
Later in the afternoon, the army held a press conference to defend its handling of the incident, claiming protesters attacked with petrol bombs.
Spokesman Mohammed Ali said one soldier and two police officers were killed and 42 injured. However, he failed to mention the other casualties.
Footage posted by protesters on YouTube showed a soldier on the roof of a building nearby, thought to belong to the defence ministry, opening fire with single rounds from a semi-automatic rifle on the crowds below.
The incident had immediate political repercussions. The country's second biggest Islamist party, Salafi Nour, which had broken with the Brotherhood and supported the army's coup, called off negotiations for a new government.
The Brotherhood rejected calls for national reconciliation. (© Daily Telegraph, London)