Islamist militants slaughter 25 Egyptian policemen in Sinai
ambush as fears grow over Irish family arrested and held in notorious Tora jail
- Militants ambushed police vans in Sinai and killed officers execution-style
- Ibrihim Halawa, 17, is being beaten in Tora prison, according to his sister
- Situation volatile as it emerges Hosni Mubarak could leave jail this week
- Muslim Brotherhood supporters killed in Cairo as they were taken to prison
- Israeli military maintains ties to Egypt’s army despite ongoing chaos
Militants in Egypt today killed 25 policemen execution-style in an ambush in the Sinai Peninsula, as the chaos in the country continued.
In Cairo, fears are growing over a 17-year-old Irish boy and his three sisters who were arrested in the wake of a protest at a mosque, after another sister suggested that the teenager could have been ‘beaten to hell’ at the Tora prison.
The volatile situation could deteriorate further as it emerged that former president Hosni Mubarak, driven out of office by a vast wave of street protests in 2011, could be released from prison as early as this week.
The attack on police apparently took place this morning as two minibuses carrying off-duty officers were driving through a village near the border town of Rafah.
The suspected militants forced the two vehicles to stop, ordered the policemen out and forced them to lie on the ground before they shot them to death, according to security officials.
Sinai, which marks the border between Israel, Egypt and the Gaza Strip, has long been considered one of the main flashpoints in the Middle East.
It has witnessed almost daily attacks by Islamist militants ever since Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi was deposed last month in a military coup.
A few hours after the attack near Rafah, suspected militants shot to death a police major as he stood guard outside a bank in the city of el-Arish, also in northern Sinai.
A 17-year-old Irish boy who is currently in jail in Cairo could have been ‘beaten to hell’ by Egyptian prison guards, according to his sister.
Irish teenager Ibrihim Halawa and his three sisters were caught up in violence at the Al Fateh mosque on Saturday, and detained by security forces when they stormed the building.
Their sister Nasaybi Halawa, at the family home in Dublin, said she believed her siblings are being held at Tora prison, where all the men have been beaten.
‘I was speaking to someone a few minutes ago and they told me that they saw my sister in Tora jail and I asked them about my brother,’ Ms Halawa said.
‘The person I’m speaking to told me they were beating men to hell. She doesn’t know how my brother looks but she told me, “I can guarantee for you, all the men were beaten there. They didn’t exclude anyone from hitting them.”‘
She later added: ‘We are just wishing and hoping and praying that they will arrive back today or tomorrow. We have been told that they are safe but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been harmed or beaten.
Ibrihim was arrested on Saturday along with his sisters Omaima, 20, Fatima, 22, and Somaia, 27.
He completed his school leaving certificate before the summer holiday, and was due to hear back from the universities he applied to today.
His father, Sheikh Hussein Halawa – the imam of Ireland’s largest mosque – has appealed for the Irish Government to act quickly to free his children from detention.
Ms Halawa said she was worried her siblings would be killed, telling RTE Radio: ‘There is no difference now between anyone. They can kill anyone.’
The situation in Egypt is set to become even more unpredictable this week if Mubarak is released from custody, as suggested today by judicial officials.
The officials said there were no longer any grounds to hold the 85-year-old former dictator, because it is illegal to imprison someone for more than two years without convicting them of a crime.
The suspects were part of a prison truck convoy of some 600 detainees heading to Abu Zaabal prison in northern Egypt, security officials said.
Detainees in one of the trucks rioted and managed to capture a police officer inside, the authorities claimed.
However, state media reported that the detainees were in fact trying to escape from the prison van and came under fire during the attempt.
Most of the prisoners were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, but it is not clear whether all of them belonged to the organisation, which has repeatedly clashed with the military-backed interim regime.
Today the government ordered an inquiry into the deaths, which it blamed on armed men allegedly trying to help the 600 Brotherhood detainees escape.
The violence adds to the ever-rising death toll in days of unrest. On Saturday alone, clashes between Morsi supporters and police killed 79 people, according to the government.
That raised the death toll for four days of unrest across the country to nearly 900. Some 70 police officers were killed in clashes with protesters or retaliatory attacks during the same period, according to the Interior Ministry.
The clashes began on Wednesday when security forces dismantled two encampments of Morsi supporters in Cairo, who demanded his reinstatement. The military overthrew Morsi in a bloodless coup on July 3 after millions took to the street demanding him to step down.
The interim government declared a state of emergency after Wednesday’s clashes and imposed a curfew, turning the capital into a ghost town after 7pm every night. The government also began taking harsher measures to cripple the Brotherhood.
Security forces arrested hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members yesterday in raids on their homes in different cities, aimed at disrupting planned rallies to support Morsi.
The Cabinet also held an emergency meeting to discuss the possibility of banning the group, which swept to power in the country’s first democratic elections a year ago after years of being outlawed by Hosni Mubarak’s government.
Israeli officials said today that they were monitoring the turmoil and keeping in close contact with Egypt’s army, fearing that the ongoing chaos could jeopardise attempts to fight Islamic militants in Sinai.
The two countries signed a landmark peace treaty in 1979, and their militaries have had a close relationship ever since which has continued during the uprisings across the Arab world.
However, Israel is wary of taking sides in the dispute between the Egytian army and the Muslim Brotherhood.
‘Israel does not have to support the regime, especially not publicly, said Giora Eiland, a former chairman of Israel’s National Security Council. ‘It is not our place to defend all the measures taken, this is not our business.’
However, Eiland suggested that the international community had been overly hasty in criticising Egypt’s military, saying that Israeli and Western interests are ‘much closer’ to the army than the Brotherhood.
‘Even if we don’t share the same values, we can share the same interests,’ he said. ‘The Israeli interest is quite clear. We want a stable regime in Egypt.’
Israeli lawmaker Shaul Mofaz, a former defence minister and military chief of staff, said it was essential that peace and order be restored in Egypt.
‘The issue of the peace treaty with Egypt is Israel’s highest interest,’ he told Channel 2 TV. ‘As long as the violence, and the confrontation between the army and the civilians and the bloodshed there increases, it endangers the peace treaty. We have an interest that life there is quiet.’
HOW THE BLOODSHED HAS UNFOLDED: CHRONOLOGY OF THE REVOLUTION
Jan. 25 – Feb. 11, 2011 – Egyptians stage nationwide demonstrations against nearly 30 years of Mubarak’s rule. Hundreds of protesters are killed as Mubarak and his allies try to crush the uprising.
Feb. 11 – Mubarak steps down and the military takes over. The military dissolves parliament and suspends the constitution, meeting two key demands of protesters.
Nov. 28, 2011 – Feb 15, 2012 – Egypt holds multi-stage, weeks-long parliamentary elections. In the law-making lower house, the Muslim Brotherhood wins nearly half the seats, and ultra-conservative Salafis take another quarter. The remainder goes to liberal, independent and secular politicians. In the largely powerless upper house, Islamists take nearly 90 percent of the seats.
May 23-24, 2012 – The first round of voting in presidential elections has a field of 13 candidates. The Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under Mubarak, emerge as the top two finishers, to face each other in a runoff.
June 14 – The Supreme Constitutional Court orders the dissolving of the lower house of parliament.
June 16-17 – Egyptians vote in the presidential runoff between Morsi and Shafiq. Morsi wins with 51.7 per cent of the vote.
June 30 – Morsi takes his oath of office.
Nov. 19 – Members of liberal parties and representatives of Egypt’s churches withdraw from the 100-member assembly writing the constitution, protesting attempts by Islamists to impose their will.
Nov. 22 – Morsi unilaterally decrees greater powers for himself, giving his decisions immunity from judicial review and barring the courts from dissolving the constituent assembly and the upper house of parliament. The move sparks days of protests.
Dec. 4 – More than 100,000 protesters march on the presidential palace, demanding the cancellation of the referendum and the writing of a new constitution. The next day, Islamists attack an anti-Morsi sit-in, sparking street battles that leave at least 10 dead.
Dec. 15, Dec. 22 – In the two-round referendum, Egyptians approve the constitution, with 63.8 per cent voting in favor. Turnout is low.
Jan. 25, 2013 – Hundreds of thousands hold protests against Morsi on the two-year anniversary of the start of the revolt against Mubarak, and clashes erupt in many places.
Feb.-March 2013 – Protests rage in Port Said and other cities for weeks, with dozens more dying in clashes.
April 7 – A Muslim mob attacks the main cathedral of the Coptic Orthodox Church as Christians hold a funeral and protest there over four Christians killed in sectarian violence the day before. Pope Tawadros II publicly blames Morsi for failing to protect the building.
June 30 – Millions of Egyptians demonstrate on Morsi’s first anniversary in office, calling on him to step down. Eight people are killed in clashes outside the Muslim Brotherhood’s Cairo headquarters.
July 1 – Huge demonstrations continue, and Egypt’s powerful military gives the president and the opposition 48 hours to resolve their disputes, or it will impose its own solution.
July 2 – Military officials disclose main details of the army’s plan if no agreement is reached: replacing Morsi with an interim administration, canceling the Islamist-based constitution and calling elections in a year. Morsi delivers a late-night speech in which he pledges to defend his legitimacy and vows not to step down.
July 3 – Egypt’s military chief announces that Morsi has been deposed, to be replaced by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court until new presidential elections. No time frame is given. Muslim Brotherhood leaders are arrested. Tens of thousands of Morsi supporters remain camped out in two mass sit-ins in Cairo’s streets.
July 4 – Supreme Constitutional Court Chief Justice Adly Mansour is sworn in as Egypt’s interim president.
July 5 – Mansour dissolves the Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament as Morsi’s supporters stage mass protests demanding his return. Clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi groups in Cairo and Alexandria, and violence elsewhere leave at least 36 dead. A Brotherhood strongman, deputy head Khairat el-Shater, is arrested.
July 8 – Egyptian soldiers open fire on pro-Morsi demonstrators in front of a military base in Cairo, killing more than 50. Each side blames the other for starting the clash near the larger of the two sit-ins, near east Cairo’s Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque. Mansour puts forward a time line for amending the constitution and electing a new president and parliament by mid-February. The Brotherhood refuses to participate in the process.
July 9 – Mansour appoints economist Hazem el-Beblawi as prime minister and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei as vice president. A military announcement backs up the appointments.
July 26 – Millions pour into the streets of Egypt after a call by the country’s military chief for protesters to give him a mandate to stop ‘potential terrorism’ by supporters of Morsi. Five people are killed in clashes. Prosecutors announce Morsi is under investigation for a host of allegations including murder and conspiracy with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
July 27 – Security forces and armed men in civilian clothes clash with Morsi supporters outside the larger of the two major sit-ins in Cairo, killing at least 80 people.
July 30 – The EU’s top diplomat Catherine Ashton holds a two-hour meeting with detained Morsi at an undisclosed location. She is one of a number of international envoys, including U.S. senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, to visit Egypt to attempt to resolve the crisis.
Aug. 11 – Egyptian security forces announce that they will besiege the two sit-ins within 24 hours to bar people from entering.
Aug. 14 – Riot police backed by armored vehicles and bulldozers clear two sprawling encampments of supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, sparking clashes that kill at least 638 people. The presidency declares a monthlong state of emergency across the nation as Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei resigns in protest over the assaults.
Aug. 15 – The Interior Ministry authorises police to use deadly force against protesters targeting police and state institutions after Islamists torch government buildings, churches and police stations in retaliation against the crackdown on their encampments.
Aug. 16 – Heavy gunfire rings out throughout Cairo as tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters clash with armed vigilantes in the fiercest street battles to engulf the capital since the country’s Arab Spring uprising. The clashes kill 173 people nationwide, including police officers.
Aug. 17 -Egyptian authorities announce they are considering disbanding the Muslim Brotherhood group. Meanwhile, security forces raid a mosque in Cairo where protesters supporting the nation’s ousted president had been barricaded inside.
Aug. 18 – Egyptian police fire tear gas in an attempt to free a guard from rioting detainees, killing at least 36. Earlier in the evening, the country’s military leader vowed to tolerate no more violence. Authorities also raided the homes of Brotherhood members in an apparent attempt to disrupt the group ahead of mass rallies they had planned. A government tally says the death toll for four days of unrest across the country had risen to nearly 900 people killed.
Aug. 19 – Egyptian judiciary officials say Mubarak could be freed from custody, on the same day security officials said suspected Islamic militants killed 25 off-duty policemen in the northern Sinai Peninsula.