Mohammed Mursi

Cairo protesters tell of terror as security forces move in on sit-in camps

Protesters describe how police and army moved in, smashing down tents with bulldozers and with tear gas canisters 'falling from the sky like rain'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 August, 2013, 6:18pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 August, 2013, 3:37am

First came the tear gas, the bulldozers and the flames. Then came the bullets and the blood.

Security forces arrived after dawn yesterday to disperse the camp where thousands of Islamists had stayed for six weeks.

Helicopters roared above as armoured bulldozers knocked down the makeshift walls made of sandbags and piles of rocks.

Within hours of the first tear gas canisters raining down on protesters' tents in the Rabaa al-Adawiya camp in the east of the city, dozens of bodies lay in a makeshift morgue set up by medics treating scores of wounded in a field hospital.

The camp in Nasr City was one of two being cleared in Cairo yesterday by police and troops.

A smaller camp near Cairo University was swiftly cleared in the early morning, but clashes raged for hours at the main site.

Saleh Abdulaziz, 39, a secondary school teacher clutching a bleeding head wound, said: "They smashed through our walls. Police and soldiers, they fired tear gas at children.

"We are peaceful - no weapons. We didn't fire a shot. We threw stones. They continued to fire at protesters even when we begged them to stop." Wounded and dead lay on the streets near pools of blood.

An area of the camp that was a playground and art exhibit for the children of protesters was turned into a war-zone field hospital.

"Oh, Egyptian people, your brothers are in the square ... Are you going to remain silent until the genocide is completed?" said Mohammed el-Beltagy, a senior Brotherhood leader, urging Egyptians to take to the streets to show their anger at the raids.

Witnesses said that after firing tear gas, police and troops surged into Rabaa al-Adawiya, causing panic among thousands of protesters who set up the camp soon after Mursi was ousted by the army on July 3.

Men in gas masks rushed to grab each canister and dunk them in containers of water, as the main stage near the mosque of the camp blared Islamic anthems and protesters chanted: "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest.)

Clashes quickly erupted between protesters and members of the security forces on one side of the camp, with automatic fire reverberating across the square.

Television footage showed the injured being carried to a makeshift medical centre.

Police were seen dragging away protesters, who have defied numerous ultimatums by the army-installed authorities to end their demonstrations.

Protest leaders wearing gas masks stood defiantly on a stage while crowds of people wearing face masks stood amid the swirling tear gas as bulldozers began dismantling the camp.

"Tear gas canisters were falling from the sky like rain. There are no ambulances inside. They closed every entrance," said Khaled Ahmed, 20, a student wearing a hard hat with tears streaming down his face.

"There are women and children in there. God help them. This is a siege, a military attack on a civilian protest camp."

Islam Tawfiq, a Brotherhood member at the Nasr City sit-in, said the camp's medical centre was filled with bodies and that the injured included children.

"No one can leave and those who do are either arrested or beaten up," he said.

Young Brotherhood supporter Majdi Isam, his hair matted with blood, said it was time for holy war. "Is our blood this cheap? We are waging jihad now.

"God will have vengeance on the butchers. The streets are full of blood," he said.

By late afternoon, the campsite where Mursi's supporters had maintained their vigil for six weeks was empty. One man stood alone in the wreckage reciting the central tenet of Islam: "There is no God but Allah."

He wept and then his voice tailed off into silence.

Reuters, Associated Press, Agence France-Presse