Sunday, March 9, 2014
The Associated Press
CAIRO — Egyptian security forces stormed a Cairo mosque Saturday after shooting at armed men firing down from a minaret, rounding up hundreds of supporters of the country's ousted president who hid there overnight after violent clashes killed 173 people.
Security officials said officers raided the Ramses Square mosque out of fears the Muslim Brotherhood again planned to set up a sit-in similar to those broken up Wednesday in assaults that killed hundreds of people. The Egyptian government meanwhile announced it had begun deliberations on whether to ban the Brotherhood, a long-outlawed organization that swept to power in the country's first democratic elections a year ago.
Such a ban – which authorities say is rooted in the group's use of violence – would be a repeat to the historic and decades-long power struggle between the state and the Brotherhood. It also could provoke more unrest in Egypt following the July 3 military coup against President Mohammed Morsi, a Brotherhood member.
The assault on the al-Fath Mosque began overnight Friday, as pro-Morsi protesters and armed men fled into the worship center to avoid angry vigilantes and arrest. They piled furniture in the mosque's entrance to block authorities and enraged anti-Morsi protesters from reaching them.
The mosque earlier served as a field hospital and an open-air morgue as a Brotherhood-called day of protests descended into violence. By daybreak Saturday, security forces and armored personnel carriers surrounded the mosque and it appeared that military-led negotiations might defuse the standoff.
Then gunmen took over a mosque minaret and opened fire on the security forces below, the state-run MENA news agency said. The crowd around the mosque panicked as soldiers opened fire with assault rifles, the chaos broadcast live on local television channels.
Several security officials told The Associated Press that ending the standoff at the mosque was essential after receiving information that the group planned to turn it into a new sit-in protest camp. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
On Wednesday, riot police, military helicopters, snipers and bulldozers broke up two sit-in protests by Morsi supporters, leaving more than 600 people dead and thousands injured. That sparked days of violence that killed 173 people and injured 1,330 people on Friday alone, when the Brotherhood called for protests during a "Day of Rage," Cabinet spokesman Sherif Shawki said.
Among those who died Friday was Ammar Badie, a son of Brotherhood spiritual leader Mohammed Badie, the group's political arm said in a statement.
Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi, who leads the military-backed government, later told journalists that authorities had no choice but to use force in the wake of recent violence.
"I feel sorry for valuable blood shed," el-Beblawi said. However, he cautioned that there will be no "reconciliation with those whose hands are stained with blood or those who hold weapons against the country's institutions."
Signaling the Brotherhood's precarious political position, Shawki said the government was considering ordering the group be disbanded. The spokesman said the prime minister had assigned the Ministry of Social Solidarity to study the legal possibilities of dissolving the group. He didn't elaborate.
The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, came to power a year ago when its Morsi was elected in the country's first free presidential elections. The election came after the overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising in 2011.
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