Europe

Irish family is told three Halawa sisters are in Cairo jail

Ibrihim Halawa with sisters Fatima, Omaima and Somaia
Image caption Ibrihim, Fatima, Omaima and Somaia Halawa were caught up in the mosque siege

A sister of four Irish citizens who were caught up in a siege at an Egyptian mosque has said they have been told three of them are still in jail.

Four members of the Halawa family were in Cairo's al-Fath mosque when it was cleared by Egyptian forces on Saturday.

Their sister, Nosayba Halawa, said released prisoners contacted her family on Sunday to say three of the Halawa sisters are still in a Cairo prison.

However, they have heard nothing of the whereabouts of their teenage brother.

The four siblings - Omaima Halawa, 20, her two sisters Fatima, 22, Somaia, 27, and their 17-year-old brother Ibrihim - all live in Dublin but had gone to Egypt on holiday with their mother, Amina Mostafa.

The three young women and teenage boy are children of Hussein Halawa, the imam at Ireland's largest mosque, who moved to Dublin with his family 18 years ago.

Tear gas

The siblings were among hundreds of people who sheltered in the al-Fath mosque on Friday night, during a stand-off between security forces and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood is calling for the reinstatement of President Mohammed Morsi, who was ousted by the army last month.

Morsi supporters have staged several protests, including barricading themselves into al-Fath mosque.

The mosque was being used as a makeshift morgue and treatment clinic for injured protesters. It was the scene of a lengthy siege on Saturday, as security forces fired tear gas into the building, and exchanged fire with at least one gunman.

Many people who were in the mosque were arrested, including members of the Halawa family.

On Sunday evening, Nosayba Halawa told BBC Radio Ulster that she understood her three younger sisters are being held at Tura prison in Cairo.

Distressed

She said that two other women who were released from the prison over the weekend phoned her mother on Sunday morning to say the Halawa sisters were all in the jail.

The sisters had passed on Amina Mostafa's phone number to the released women and asked them to let their family know where they were.

Nosayba Halawa said they still have not heard anything from their younger brother.

"I hope that he's safe, I'm trying my best not to think about anything bad," she said.

The last direct contact the family had with the four siblings was a distressed phone call from Omaima and Fatima Halawa on Saturday.

They said the had been arrested and their phones had been taken from them, but had managed to borrow a phone to contact family members in Dublin.

Curfew

At that stage, the arrested pair did not know the whereabouts of Somaia or Ibrihim.

Nosayba Halawa said that when her sisters were detained they told the Egyptian authorities that they were Irish citizens, but this was ignored.

"They took their mobiles, and she told them 'you can't take me until someone from the (Irish) embassy would be with me', but as well, they ignored that totally. After that we didn't hear anything from them," she added.

She told BBC Radio Ulster that Irish embassy staff are having difficulty getting information on the case from the Egyptian government.

The Dublin-based family members have been in contact with a solicitor in Egypt but said a 19:00 curfew was causing problems for legal representatives who were trying to make contact with prisoners in Cairo.

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