Mexico condemns Egypt for airstrike on tourist convoy

- Kristen McTighe Special for USA TODAY CAIRO

The Mexican government Monday condemned Egyptian forces for killing 12 people, including at least two Mexican tourists, and wounding at least 10 in an airstrike that hit a tourist convoy apparently mistaken for Islamist radicals in Egypt’s Western Desert.

Mexico’s secretary of foreign affairs, Claudia Massieu, told reporters in Mexico City that the tourist convoy had come under “an aerial attack with bombs launched from an airplane and helicopter­s” on Sunday.

Massieu said Mexico’s ambassador to Egypt had been able to visit and speak to survivors of the attack at a Cairo hospital. The survivors told the ambassador that the airstrikes had occurred after their tour group had stopped for a meal on their way to an oasis, Massieu said.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted: “Mexico condemns these acts against our citizens and has demanded that the Egyptian government conduct an exhaustive investigat­ion of what happened.”

The Mexican government said 14 of its citizens had taken part in the desert excursion and confirmed that two had been killed and six who were injured remained in the hospital.

Egypt’s Ministry of Interior said in a statement that security forces had mistakenly fired on four vehicles that “turned out to be a Mexican tourist convoy entering a restricted zone” during a joint army and police operation tracking terrorist elements in the Western Desert. The ministry said a team had been formed to investigat­e the “causes and circumstan­ces of the incident and the reasons behind a tourist convoy entering a restricted area.”

Amr Imam, a cousin of one victim, Awad Fathi, told USA TODAY he traveled to the scene and saw four “completely destroyed” vehicles and dead bodies strewn on the ground. Officials inspecting the site would not al- low him near the bodies when he tried to approach, he said.

Imam, a human rights lawyer, said he spoke to witnesses, including a driver, who described how army aircraft had come out of nowhere and attacked the group. Monday evening, he traveled to a morgue in Cairo in hopes of receiving the body of his cousin for burial.

Rasha al-Ayazi, with Egypt’s Tourism Ministry, told the stateowned Middle East News Agency that the convoy had not obtained proper security clearance to travel in the area and that the government would “punish” the tour organizers for allowing the convoy to enter a restricted area.

But the ministry statement was contradict­ed by Hassan Elnahla, head of Egypt’s union for tour guides, the General Tourist Guides Syndicate, in a union statement posted on Facebook Monday. It said the convoy was licensed, that a police escort was with the tourist group and that the group had received no warn- ings from any security at the checkpoint they had passed through that the area was restricted to civilians.

Egypt has been battling an insurgency that has intensifie­d since the 2013 military ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Hundreds of soldiers and police have been killed by militants who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and have started to attack Western targets in the country.

The attack on the convoy came the same day that Islamic State militants claimed to have clashed with the Egyptian military in the Western Desert. In a statement circulated by the militants online, the group said it battled and routed Egyptian troops from the area. Egyptian officials have not commented on the group’s claims.

Although Egypt’s Western Desert remains a popular destinatio­n for tourist safaris, police convoys often accompany excursions in the remote area near the border with Libya.

 ?? MANOOCHER DEGHATI, AP ?? At least 12 people were killed and 10 injured in Egypt’s Western Desert on Sunday when security forces mistakenly fired on a group of Mexican tourists, Egyptian officials said.
MANOOCHER DEGHATI, AP At least 12 people were killed and 10 injured in Egypt’s Western Desert on Sunday when security forces mistakenly fired on a group of Mexican tourists, Egyptian officials said.

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