Cairo: Mexican officials have reacted furiously to explanations by Egyptian security forces for how they killed 12 people, including eight Mexican tourists, by opening fire on them as they had lunch in the Western Desert.
Helicopters apparently chasing a kidnap gang – feared to be connected to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) – mistook the party’s jeeps as they stopped for a picnic in the dunes on Sunday afternoon. After a long delay, the Egyptian interior ministry said a police and military operation “chasing terrorist elements” had “mistakenly” targeted jeeps carrying the Mexicans and their Egyptian tour guides.
But local residents and relatives of the guides said the helicopters fired without warning.
“After the first shell, they tried to run,” said Mohamed Salama, the nephew of a desert guide who died. “There was no place to hide. Six bodies are completely carbonised and the vehicles were destroyed as well.
“Security had been informed of the trip’s schedule and had been provided with a security detail. They registered the numbers of the cars in the hotel, according to the security regulations.”
The police guard was injured in the attack.
Mr Salama’s uncle, Nabil al-Tamawi, is a well-known guide specialising in leading tours for meditation, including in the desert. The group had stopped near Bahariya Oasis, 250 miles south-west of Cairo, and some were taking photographs when the helicopters opened fire.
Amr Imam, a cousin of another of the dead tour guides, Awad Fathi, 41, who also managed a nearby eco-lodge, said authorities had tried to suppress news of the incident until he posted details on social media.
“The corpses are still lying in the desert,” he said. “Awad’s brothers were trying to reach it but they were told by the security that the prosecution must review the situation before they were moved.”
He denied the authorities’ claims that the group were in a restricted zone.
The desert was once a popular tourist destination, but Isil loyalists moved into the area last year, causing Egypt’s army to limit tourist traffic.
Egypt has criminalised the publication of details contradicting official statements on terror-related incidents. But yesterday (Monday), state institutions failed to explain how the tragedy had unfolded.
The Mexican foreign secretary, Claudia Ruiz Massieu, said survivors described “an aerial attack with bombs launched by a plane and helicopters”.
She said Mexico expressed its “deep dismay over these deplorable events” in a diplomatic note to Cairo’s ambassador, demanding a “swift, exhaustive and deep investigation”.
Security forces on the ground reportedly fired on remaining members of the convoy as they fled. As well as the eight Mexicans and four Egyptians killed, six Mexicans and four others were transferred to hospital.
It is not the first time security forces in the area have fired at tourists. In January 2014, military personnel ambushed vehicles carrying passengers from Britain, the United States, Canada and Sweden. One car was hit by 13 bullets, injuring its driver.
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