Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Family caught up in Cairo violence

Four Irish citizens are among hundreds of people trapped in an Egyptian mosque fearful they will be attacked if they leave. (AP)

Relatives of four Irish citizens who were trapped in a besieged Egyptian mosque said tonight they feared for their safety.

Nasaybi Halawa whose three sisters and teenage brother were among hundreds of people forced to leave the Al Fateh mosque in Cairo by Egyptian security forces, said the family was trying to stay strong but were extremely concerned.

From their home at Firhouse, Dublin Ms Halawa said: "The last time I talked to my sister was about 1pm this afternoon. They had taken her mobile phone but she managed to borrow one. All the while they (security forces) were harassing her and she was screaming and crying.

"We are trying to cope. We are trying to be strong so we can do something for them. We have a hope that everything will be fine."

Teargas was fired and heavy gunfire was heard before the mosque was cleared.

It is understood two of the siblings Omaima, 21, and Fatima, 23, have been detained by the Egyptian authorities but the location at which they are being held is unknown.

The whereabouts of their other sister, Somaia, 27, and 17-year-old brother Ibrihim is also unknown. Their worried relatives are unsure if they were arrested at the mosque or fled.

Ms Halawa added: "We do not know anything about them. We do not know where they have been taken. We do not know if they are in one of the police stations in Cairo or somewhere else. We don't even know where to start looking."

The four siblings are children of Hussein Halawa, imam of Ireland's biggest mosque in Dublin, and were in Egypt on holiday. They were joined by their mother two weeks ago but their father is still in Dublin.

The family, who moved to Dublin 18 years ago, travel to Egypt every year to visit relatives and friends.

Ms Halawa said her mother and uncles have been in contact with a lawyer in Cairo and are beginning a search of the city's police stations.

Her sister had described conditions inside the mosque as austere and traumatic.

She said: "They were inside for 18 hours without food and water. They had to drink from a fountain which was not meant for drinking. My brother, who is under 18 years of age was in the same place as dead bodies.

"They had been running from gunfire and the mosque, as a holy place should be respected. Is that a crime now?"

The siblings took refuge in the mosque yesterday as violent clashes between supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi and the security forces killed around 80 people in the Egyptian capital yesterday.

Earlier, Omaima Halawa, a final-year student at Blanchardstown Institute of Technology, described the scene in the city as frightening.

"We are surrounded in the mosque both inside and outside," she told Irish national broadcaster RTE from Cairo.

"The security forces broke in and threw tear gas at us."

She said they were warned they could b e shot if they tried to leave and requested an escort from the Irish Embassy in Cairo.

Ms Halawa also claimed "thugs" outside the mosque threatened to kill her if she left the building and requested an escort from Irish Embassy staff.

"We want a safe passage out for the four of us. I do not trust (security forces) or the thugs.

"They have personally threatened to slaughter me when they see me."

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said they are continuing to liaise with authorities in Egypt.

"We are in ongoing contact with the Egyptian authorities in relation to the safety and well-being of all Irish citizens involved. We are also involved with the family in Dublin," he said.

Earlier dozens of people took part in a solidarity protest outside the Egyptian embassy in Dublin.

The rally, hosted by the Irish Anti-War Movement, was designed to put pressure on the Irish Government to condemn the massacre of civilians in Cairo.

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