The bloodless coup in Egypt got less hygienic overnight. After a confrontation by pro-Morsi protesters and the Egyptian army at the headquarters where Mohamed Morsi reportedly is being held in Cairo, soldiers opened fire, killing more than 40 people and wounding over 300. The protesters claim that the soldiers opened fire during morning prayers, but the military insists that they defended the HQ from a terrorist attack:
The AP reports that the Salafist group al-Nour has withdrawn its support from the military-sponsored interim government after the “massacre.” They also have more detail on the conflicting accounts:
Military spokesmen said gunmen opened fire on troops at the building, killing at least five supporters of Mohammed Morsi and one officer.
A spokesman from Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, Mourad Ali, and a witness at the scene however said military forces opened fire at dawn on the protesters outside the Republican Guard building. The different accounts could not be reconciled.
Satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera showed footage from a nearby field hospital of at least six dead bodies laid out on the ground, some with severe wounds. A medic from the area, Hesham Agami, said ambulances were unable to transport more than 200 wounded to hospitals because the military had blocked off the roads.
Al-Shaimaa Younes, who was at the sit-in, said military troops and police forces opened fire on the protesters during early morning prayers. “They opened fire with live ammunition and lobbed tear gas,” she said by telephone. “There was panic and people started running. I saw people fall.” …
A statement by the armed forces published on the state news agency said “an armed terrorist group” tried to storm the Republican Guard building, killing one officer and seriously injuring six. The statement said the forces arrested 200 attackers, armed with guns and ammunition.
The details are still hazy, and the conflicting claims don’t help. CNN’s report states that the shooting took place at 4 am local time and some of the video shows ambulances arriving in the dark, which would tend to indicate that the incident took place too early for morning prayer. On the other hand, it could be that a small group within a larger, peaceful group of protesters decided to use the demonstration as cover for an attack. That would account for the confusion and reconcile the conflicting claims.
Either way, the military government now has a major political problem on its hands, and they may soon find themselves on the defensive, just as Morsi did last week.