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Military uses force to end Cairo standoff

Unknown number of casualties after mosque attacked

An army officer pointed his weapon at the crowd Saturday as he helped an Islamist man leave Cairo’s Fath mosque where supporters of ousted president Morsi were holed up. Security forces were trying to convince the supporters to leave.

MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/afp/getty images

An army officer pointed his weapon at the crowd Saturday as he helped an Islamist man leave Cairo’s Fath mosque where supporters of ousted president Morsi were holed up. Security forces were trying to convince the supporters to leave.

CAIRO — Soldiers fired on a Cairo mosque Saturday where supporters of the ousted president, Mohammed Morsi, were sheltering, turning a central thoroughfare into a war zone in a further sign that Egypt’s new military rulers are struggling to impose order days after security forces killed hundreds of antigovernment Islamists.

Soldiers and policemen eventually stormed and cleared the Fath mosque, according to the state news agency. By day’s end, though, it was unclear if there were any casualties at the site and how many Islamists were arrested.

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The standoff began Friday when Morsi’s supporters turned the mosque into a field hospital and a morgue during deadly clashes with the security services. It appeared the security forces this time had worked to try to negotiate an end to the standoff.

But the task of ending the siege was complicated by hundreds of civilian opponents of the Islamists who surrounded the mosque and beat Morsi’s supporters as they emerged, despite attempts by the soldiers to safely bring the Islamists out. The civilians, armed with rubber hoses, metal pipes, or wooden clubs, also attacked or detained journalists in the area.

It was not clear whether the vigilantes surrounding the mosque Saturday were actively collaborating with the security services, who have long relied on plainclothes enforcers to brutally break up demonstrations. Some echoed the relentless campaign by government officials and the state news media to paint Morsi’s supporters as terrorists.

Civilians have added a layer of menace to Egypt’s violence, as so-called popular committees set up checkpoints in neighborhoods, searching cars and occasionally robbing their drivers. On Friday, armed men roamed Cairo freely, their allegiances — to Morsi or to the military — unclear.

Several reporters were attacked by civilians outside the mosque Saturday, including a reporter for The Guardian, Patrick Kingsley, who wrote on Twitter that he was surrounded by a mob that “duffed me up a bit,” and that his laptop and cellphone were stolen before he was taken to a police station.

On Saturday, an adviser to Egypt’s interim president, Mustafa Hegazy, lashed out at the foreign news media and Western countries for ignoring violence by the Islamists, while warning “those who give international cover or financial cover” to terrorists.

“Egypt is not a soft state,” he said. “It is not a follower. It has never been and will never be.”

The violence at the mosque came a day after battles throughout Egypt — between security forces and Islamists, and civilians fighting among themselves — left at least 173 people dead, according to an official count.

The standoff at the mosque was emblematic of Egypt’s wider chaos, with no end in sight to a feud that has devolved into violent conflict since security services killed hundreds of people at the sit-ins last week.

There were signs on Saturday that the civil strife could intensify, as the government proposed new measures aimed at further limiting the influence of the main Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, or possibly trying to eradicate it.

And, perhaps adding further energy to the cycle of bloodshed and revenge, the Brotherhood announced that the son of its spiritual leader, Mohammed Badie, had been killed during the fighting outside the mosque Friday. The movement had previously announced that the grandson of its founder, Hassan al-Banna, was killed during the same clashes, and the daughter of a senior Brotherhood leader was killed in an earlier attack.

The interim prime minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, submitted a proposal to the ministry that regulates nongovernmental groups to ban the Islamist movement, his spokesman said Saturday. The spokesman, Sherif Shawky, said the world had seen the “organized terrorism and sinful aggressions on the citizens” by a “small faction that lost its mind and was blinded by the lust for power.”

It was unclear if el-Beblawi was suggesting the Brotherhood could be allowed to maintain its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. Shawky asserted that the government was still interested in an “inclusive” political process, but only after “this homeland belongs to everyone,” he added.

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