Egyptian soldiers ended an overnight standoff by peacefully entering a Cairo mosque where hundreds of supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi had holed up, Egyptian state television reported Saturday morning.
After a day of deadly clashes with military forces and vigilante groups, the pro-Morsi protesters remained in the mosque and military and police forces surrounded the area, raising fears a raid could lead to more bloodshed.
Egypt’s ONTV showed the soldiers entering the Al-Fath mosque in Cairo’s Ramses Square, appearing to negotiate with the protesters, attempting to persuade them to leave. Small groups were seen emerging from the mosque by late morning, but more are believed to still be barricaded inside.
Al Jazeera reported that people inside the mosque were afraid to leave the premises, fearing they would be arrested. According to Egyptian television, police said women were free to leave the mosque, but men would be held for questioning.
Early Saturday morning, gunshots were heard at the mosque. Initial media reports were inconclusive about whether the gunfire was coming from individuals who were barricaded inside the building or those trying to enter it.
Inside, blood-soaked bodies with bullets to the head and chest lay next to one another.
The mosque-turned-morgue was also being used as a field hospital where the wounded from clashes across the city were being wheeled in on wooden crates. One corpse had a name and phone number scribbled on the chest.
On Friday, the Facebook page of the army spokesman, Col. Mohammed Ali, accused gunmen of firing from the mosque at nearby buildings. The upper floors of a commercial building towering over Ramses Square caught fire during the mayhem, with flames engulfing it for hours.
Egyptian police announced early Saturday that it had arrested 1,004 Muslim Brotherhood supporters following a day of clashes that saw more than 80 people killed across the country.
According to a Ministry of Interior statement cited by AFP, 558 of the arrests were carried out in Cairo.
Egypt’s capital descended into chaos Friday as vigilantes at neighborhood checkpoints battled Muslim Brotherhood-led protesters denouncing the ouster of president Mohammed Morsi and a deadly crackdown. The fiercest street clashes Cairo has seen in more than two years of turmoil left at least 82 people dead, including 10 policemen.
The sight of residents firing at one another marked a dark turn in the conflict, as civilians armed with pistols and assault rifles fought protesters taking part in what the Muslim Brotherhood called a “Day of Rage” — ignited by anger at security forces for clearing two sit-in demonstrations Wednesday that sparked nationwide clashes in which more than 600 people died.
Military helicopters circled overhead as residents furious with the Brotherhood protests pelted marchers with rocks and glass bottles. The two sides also fired on one another, sparking running street battles throughout the capital’s residential neighborhoods.
Across the country, at least 72 civilians were killed, along with 10 police officers, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Friday’s violence capped off a week that saw more than 700 people killed across the country — surpassing the combined death toll from two and a half years of violent protests since the ouster of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak until the toppling of Morsi in a July 3 coup.
Unlike in past clashes between protesters and police, Friday’s violence introduced a combustible new mix, with residents and police in civilian clothing battling those participating in the Brotherhood-led marches.
Few police in uniform were seen as neighborhood watchdogs and pro-Morsi protesters fired at one another for hours on a bridge that crosses over Cairo’s Zamalek district, an upscale island neighborhood where many foreigners and ambassadors reside.
Friday’s violence erupted shortly after midday prayers when tens of thousands of Brotherhood supporters answered the group’s call to protest across Egypt in defiance of a military-imposed state of emergency following the bloodshed earlier this week.
Armed civilians manned impromptu checkpoints throughout the capital, banning Brotherhood marches from approaching and frisking anyone wanting to pass through. At one, residents barred ambulances and cars carrying wounded from Cairo’s main battleground, Ramses Square, from reaching a hospital.
By choosing Ramses Square as the focus of Friday’s demonstrations, the Brotherhood appeared to be trying to establish another protest site to replace the two forcibly cleared Wednesday — but this time in an area that cuts through the heart of Cairo.