Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab apologized Monday after police and military accidentally killed 12 people, including eight Mexican tourists and four Egyptian nationals, over the weekend, according to local media.
The victims were part of a four-car tourist convoy traveling in the Bahariya oasis in the west of Egypt, when it was attacked by police and military.
The Egyptian officials reportedly fired on the tourist convoy, mistaking it for militants while “chasing terrorist elements” in the area, according to the Egyptian interior ministry.
Confused at how group of tourists (musicians&reiki healers) making tea on a camp fire in a known tourist spot can be mistaken for jihadis— Bel Trew - بل ترو (@Beltrew) September 14, 2015
State news agency, Al-Ahram, said Rasha Azazi, a spokesperson for the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism, told international news agencies that the tour company involved "did not have permits and did not inform authorities" about their presence in the area.
But Moataz al-Sayed, a member of the ministry’s tourism advisory board and former head of the General Tourist Guides Syndicate, told a local investigative online site that the convoy had received permissions and clearances.
"There were no signs or flags and none of the checkpoints warned them against any restrictions," he told the Egyptian investigative website Mada Masr.
One of the tourists was diabetic and in need of immediate medical attention, prompting the tour guides to take a shortcut back to their hotel, Sayed said. But the group did not receive any warnings that the area they were passing through was restricted from any of the military checkpoints they had passed, or from their police escort.
Amr Imam, a lawyer at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, told Mada Masr that the bodies of the Egyptian victims were still lying in the desert, citing family members who said neither forensics nor the prosecution was willing to investigate.
“That means that the bodies have already deteriorated,” he said, “although the incident happened only 500 meters away from the road.”
According to the lawyer, eyewitnesses said the convoy was attacked by an Apache helicopter, which was most likely given to the Egyptian security forces from military aid packages with the U.S.
Eyewitnesses- both Mexican and Egyptian - say helicopters (and poss fighter jet) dropped two missiles on tour group as they made tea #Egypt— Bel Trew - بل ترو (@Beltrew) September 14, 2015
Ten others were injured in the attack, which took place at 4pm local time Sunday. They have since been taken to the Dar-el-Fouad hospital in Giza, southwest of Cairo for treatment.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto condemned the attack and “demanded an exhaustive investigation by the Egyptian government.”
Mexico's ambassador in Egypt, Jorge Alvarez Fuentes, said in a statement he had visited the local hospital caring for the victims and that he had spoken to at least five of the Mexican victims, who were in stable condition.
Dar-el-Fouad hospital in Giza, south-west of Cairo where tourists were taken after the attack Sept. 13, 2015. | Photo: Reuters
Egypt’s military has been ramping up military operations against suspected Islamist militants in the country since the ouster of the country’s first democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
The ungoverned parts of the Sinai Province in particular has been the scene of intense attacks against army and police personnel, but human rights critics in the country say the lack of state development and police and military brutality in the region contributes to the escalating violence.
North Africa has witnessed a spate of violent attacks targeting tourists in recent months. Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi declared a state of emergency in the country last July after armed men killed 38 foreigners, many of them British nationals, in a beach hotel in the eastern city of Sousse. The Islamic State group assumed the responsibility for the attack.