CAIRO – With supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi calling for another mass rally today, the Egyptian military gave a fuller accounting of its role in the deaths of at least 51 protesters earlier this week, saying it resorted to deadly force only after encountering stones, gunfire, Molotov cocktails and even toilets hurled from rooftops.
The military’s version of events – accompanied by an edited video – came during a briefing Thursday to journalists and suggested the army was in a propaganda battle with the Muslim Brotherhood over which side was more complicit in the violence Monday in front of the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo.
The clashes between the armed forces and supporters of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party have further inflamed the country and led to calls from Islamists for a national uprising.
Witnesses say they were attacked during predawn prayers while in the third day of a peaceful sit-in to demand Morsi’s release from military detention.
Army spokesman Ahmed Ali, however, said security forces were targeted with live ammunition.
Ali said the army responded by firing tear gas, blanks and rubber bullets. Finally, he said, “we used live ammunition in non-deadly parts of the body.”
Doctors who treated the wounded at a makeshift field hospital, however, said many of the victims had neck, chest and head wounds.
Ali said the army’s investigation determined that the assailants were “outlaws. They are criminals. This was not peaceful protest. It was pre-meditated violence.”
He said immediately following the bloodshed pro-Morsi forces turned to “propaganda warfare” by posting pictures and videos online suggesting an “array of lies,” including that soldiers had killed children. Ali said the pictures of two dead children used by pro-Morsi forces were Syrian children killed in March in that country’s civil war.
Other videos played by the army showed Islamists threatening jihad and warning that Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, commander of the armed forces, “created a new al-Qaida, a new Taliban” when the army overthrew Morsi.
But the army video did not show exactly what unfolded between 4 a.m. and about 5:30 a.m., when many of the deaths occurred. The military said it did not expect an attack and had no cameras ready when the violence broke out.
Muslim Brotherhood officials have expressed outrage that the army is trying to blame them for the attack.