Egypt crisis: Cairo mosque 'cleared' after siege

The BBC's Bethany Bell says it is difficult to verify the security forces' claims

Egypt's security forces have cleared a Cairo mosque after a long stand-off with Muslim Brotherhood supporters barricaded inside, state media says.

All the protesters have now been taken out of the mosque, and many have been arrested, security forces say.

The confrontation at the al-Fath mosque continued for most of Saturday - with exchanges of gunfire between security forces and protesters.

Meanwhile the interim PM has proposed legally dissolving the Brotherhood.

The group supports the ousted President Mohammed Morsi, and wants him to be reinstated.

Despite being closely allied to Mr Morsi's government, the Brotherhood has always technically been a banned organisation - it was officially dissolved by Egypt's military rulers in 1954 - but it recently registered itself as a non-governmental organisation.

Crisis timeline

  • 3 Jul: President Mohammed Morsi deposed by military after mass protests
  • 4 Jul: Pro-Morsi protesters gather at the Rabaa al-Adawiya and Nahda sites in Cairo
  • 27 Jul: More than 70 people killed in clashes with security forces at Rabaa al-Adawiya
  • 14 Aug: Security forces break up both camps, leaving at least 638 people dead
  • 16 Aug: Muslim Brotherhood holds "day of anger" protest in Ramses Square. Clashes leave at least 173 dead
  • 17 Aug: Siege at al-Fath mosque

If it was legally dissolved, its property and assets could be seized.

The Brotherhood has called for daily demonstrations since a crackdown on its protest camps in Cairo on Wednesday left hundreds of people dead. Further clashes on Friday killed at least another 173 people.

Demonstrators went out onto the streets of several Egyptian cities on Saturday night, in defiance of an overnight curfew.

Television pictures showed protesters in Egypt's second largest city, Alexandria, and in Helwan and Minya to the south of Cairo.

Army tanks have also been seen near the coastal road in Alexandria.

Egypt's interim Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi believes the recent protests are "terrorist acts", according to his spokesman, Sharif Shawqi.

Mr Shawqi told a televised news conference on Saturday that the Muslim Brotherhood's return to power was impossible.

'Nobody is safe'

The stand-off began overnight, when the al-Fath mosque - which was being used as a makeshift clinic for the injured and morgue for the dead from clashes on Friday - turned instead into what correspondents describe as a fortress.

Brotherhood members barricaded themselves inside, using anything at their disposal.

It turned into a scene of chaos. Tear gas was fired into the building, and security forces exchanged fire with at least one gunman in the minaret.

A policeman takes position inside a room of al-Fath mosque in Cairo (17 August 2013) Egyptian security forces entered the al-Fath mosque after a tense stand-off
A police officer takes his position during clashes with supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi inside a room of al-Fath mosque Protesters and security forces exchanged heavy gunfire
Police and pro-Egyptian government supporters struggle outside al-Fath mosque There were also tense scenes outside the mosque
Armed Egyptian policeman moves into position in front of al-Fath mosque on Ramses Square in Cairo (17 August 2013) Before it became the centre of the seige, the mosque had been used as a field hospital for those caught up in previous clashes
Demonstrators in support of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi wait by the barricaded door inside al-Fath mosque at Ramses Square in Cairo (17 August 2013) But then hundreds of Morsi supporters barricaded themselves inside
Pro-government crowds gather outside the al-Fatah mosque The protesters refused to leave, partly for their own safety as anti-Muslim Brotherhood protesters had begun to gather outside
Egyptian state security and army forces provide a cordon around the al-Fath mosque (17 August 2013) Security forces formed a cordon around the building
Supporters of the interim government installed by the army gather around a police van carrying Muslim Brotherhood supporters from the al-Fath mosque (17 August 2013) Some Morsi supporters were taken away in police vans - which were surrounded by supporters of the interim government
Egyptian army officer (L) helps an Islamist woman to leave Cairo's Al-Fath mosque (17 August 2013) Morsi supporters who chose to leave the mosque had to be protected by the security forces

Al-Jazeera television called one woman inside the mosque on her mobile phone as the shooting began.

"Nobody here is safe, they are shooting inside the mosque," she said, with loud firing heard in the background.

Egyptian police have been bringing some Morsi supporters out of the building - leading some, dragging others - but are then having to protect them from angry mobs armed with bats and pieces of wood who are trying to attack them, correspondents say.

Many of the protesters have now been arrested. State TV is showing lines of detained people kneeling on the floor of the mosque with security forces around them.

The BBC's Bethany Bell in Cairo says the authorities want to secure all buildings to avoid a repeat of Muslim Brotherhood supporters forming more camps, as they did after Mr Morsi was ousted.

Egyptian government spokesman Sharif Shawqi says the protests are "terrorist acts"

But away from the mosque, the rest of the capital remained mainly calm on Saturday, correspondents say - with shops and cafes open for business.

Separately, the Egyptian authorities say they have arrested the brother of al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Mohammed al-Zawahiri was detained at a checkpoint in Giza, near Cairo, because of his links to Mr Morsi, according to security officials.

Also on Saturday, the Muslim Brotherhood said on its Facebook page that Ammar Badie, the son of the movement's spiritual leader, General Guide Mohamed Badie, was one of those killed during protests on Friday.

The Brotherhood said that Ammar Badie, 38, had died of a bullet wound in Ramses Square on Friday.

The secretary-general of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Mohammed al-Beltagi, says his 17-year-old daughter, Asmaa, died in earlier protests.

Escalation

Saturday's violence comes after days of unrest in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt.

The escalation in tensions began on Wednesday, when armoured bulldozers moved into the two Cairo protest camps which had been occupied by pro-Morsi activists since he was ousted on 3 July.

The camps were eventually cleared, but not before at least 638 people were killed.

Mobs later carried out reprisal attacks on government buildings and police stations as well as churches belonging to the country's Coptic Christian minority.

On Friday, hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters gathered in Ramses Square for a "march of anger" about the bloodshed earlier in the week.

map of Ramses Square

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