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17 Aug, 2013 14:02

Military fire shots, tear gas at Cairo mosque filled with Islamist protesters

Security forces fired bullets and tear gas at the scene of the Al-Fath mosque in Cairo after an exchange of heavy gunfire outside spilled into the building on Saturday. Hundreds of pro-Morsi protesters had barricaded themselves inside overnight.

Egyptian security unleashed a barrage of bullets after gunmen opened fire at security from a second-story window at around 2 pm local time. One lone gunman started shooting from one of the mosque’s minarets, forcing the surrounding crowds to take cover. A small explosion was heard by journalists present at the scene.

“Nobody here is safe, they are shooting inside the mosque,” one woman told Al Jazeera by telephone as the mayhem began. Loud firing could be heard in the background.

This extraordinary a full on gun battle is happening right now between security forces and someone in the el-fath mosque minaret

— Bel Trew - بل ترو (@Beltrew) August 17, 2013

Some foreign journalists were detained by a crowd amid the ensuing shower of bullets. Two Western journalists – Matt Bradley, of The Wall Street Journal, and Alastair Beach, of The Independent – were taken into an army vehicle for their own protection. 

The mosque was "cleared" just over two hours after the turmoil began, with security forces clearing the area and arresting numerous Muslim Brotherhood supporters, according to state television.

Earlier in the day, soldiers peacefully entered the mosque, apparently to negotiate with protesters. Some protesters subsequently managed to secure a safe exit from the building. Hundreds of Morsi supporters had sought refuge in the building since protests turned violent Friday. The mosque was serving as a field hospital and morgue after the crackdown.

Army soldiers react inside a room of al-Fath mosque when supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi exchanged gunfire with security forces inside the mosque in Cairo August 17, 2013.(Reuters / Muhammad Hamed)

A Muslim cleric, Sheik Abdel-Hafiz el-Maslami, told AP that people were afraid to exit the mosque from a fear of detention or the possibility of being attacked by the crowd outside. 

Small groups emerged from the mosque late Saturday morning. The head of the Doctors’ Syndicate told Ahram Online that 1,500 protesters and 31 doctors had asked for a safe exit corridor early in the morning.

“They demand a safe exit because they fear if they leave the mosque they will be arrested and humiliated. They want to go out in the presence of human rights representatives, media personnel and members of the Doctors Syndicate to make sure this will not happen,”
medic Ahmed Hussein said.

Army are shooting into the air, as crowds mob the girls coming out of the mosque. Chaos

— Bel Trew - بل ترو (@Beltrew) August 17, 2013

The reports of Muslim Brotherhood protestors shooting at the security forces from the minaret of the Al-Fath mosque are false Dr. Saad Amer from the Egyptian Forum in the UK, told RT, calling the army-backed Egyptian government “a lying machine.” 

“They say that those people in the mosque climbed into that minaret. However, to get on top of that you have to do that from outside. This is the first point. They couldn’t get to the top of it from the inside where they were,” he said.

“Secondly, there were some shooting from that towards the police or the military, but there were no casualties from that side. And if you’re shooting from that spot you’re bound to hit some targets,” he added.

Earlier, AFP reported that soldiers offered to evacuate women but insisted on questioning men, which the protesters refused. “Thugs tried to storm the mosque but the men barricaded the doors,” the agency quoted one of the people inside the mosque as saying. 

The Egyptian Army posted a statement on its Facebook page on Saturday, dismissing what it described as “lies and false claims” by Muslim Brotherhood supporters. The army said it had been providing a safe exit corridor to people inside Cairo’s Al-Fath mosque, and said some media agencies had “deliberately falsified the facts.”

Bambuser / Fahmi2

Bambuser / Fahmi2

Screenshot from AP video

Screenshot from AP video