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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

New Video Appears to Show How Predawn Raid Unfolded in Cairo

Updated | Wednesday, 10:20 a.m. One day after Egyptian security forces killed more than 50 Islamist protesters camped outside a military facility in Cairo, 28 minutes of video recorded by a witness from a building high above the clashes appeared to offer the first clear images of the predawn phase of the confrontation.

A copy of video posted on YouTube on Tuesday, said to show an early-morning battle between protesters and the security forces in Cairo that left at least 54 people dead.

According to Mohamed El-Zahaby, a 33-year-old software engineer who uploaded the video to YouTube early on Tuesday, it was recorded Monday morning by a friend who feared reprisal by the security forces and wished to remain anonymous. In an Internet exchange, Mr. Zahaby told The Lede that he was one of the youth activists who had supported the revolution that began on Jan. 25, 2011, and spoke with sarcasm of “our new democratic country,” where the police are “capturing a lot of youth nowadays.” Explaining why he wanted the video to be viewed as widely as possible, he wrote, “Our media is dealing with the matter in a very bad way … showing a lot of lies.”

Unlike most of the video clips of the clashes posted online Monday, which were recorded after sunrise and distributed by supporters of the protesters or of the military, this predawn video seems to have been recorded before 4 a.m. and was circulated by someone who claimed to oppose both the Muslim Brotherhood and Gen. Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, the defense minister who deposed the Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, last week.

Mr. Zahaby wrote that he was indifferent to the Ikhwan, using the Arabic term for the Brotherhood, and accused Egypt's powerful defense establishment of hijacking the 2011 revolution he had supported. “I don't care about Morsi,” he wrote, “but simply it is a real coup. Most people here are happy to remove the Ikhwan regime, but they don't know that 25Jan revolution is totally failed.”

“We are extremely disappointed,” he added. “We expect to be captured as well very soon.” He continued that being detained or even killed would be better “than living like dogs in a country which is supposed to be our county. We will fight and fight again - we here I mean youth, not Islamist people.”

Later on Tuesday, Mr. Zahaby replaced the entire soundtrack of the video at the request of the person who recorded it, removing the cameraman's voice, and also covering the crackle of gun shots and tear gas rounds being fired with music. He said that he was aware, however, that dozens of copies of the original video had already been made and posted on other YouTube channels. (Before the soundtrack was changed, The Lede also downloaded a copy of the original video used in this post.)

The video appears to have been recorded above Salah Salem Street, near the officers' club where supporters of Mr. Morsi believe the deposed president is detained. A mosque at the corner of Salah Salem and Youssef Abbas Street, where Morsi supporters reportedly took refuge after the initial clashes, is visible to the right of the picture.

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Among the video clips uploaded to YouTube on Monday, one appeared to show soldiers outside that mosque trying to convince the Morsi supporters inside its gate to allow the authorities to enter to provide medical care to wounded protesters.

Video posted on YouTube on Monday appeared to show Egyptian soldiers trying to convince Islamist protesters in a mosque courtyard to allow the authorities to enter.

The long video uploaded Tuesday by Mr. Zahaby begins with the sound of protesters close to the security forces banging on light posts, apparently to alert demonstrators camped in tents behind them that an assault had begun. When the camera pans back to the massed security forces, the air fills with tear gas and the sound of shots.

While these new images do not resolve the question of which side started the violence, this visual evidence does seem consistent with the written account of another witness, Mirna El-Helbawi, who watched much of Monday's violence unfold from the balcony of her apartment. According to Ms. Helbawi, who described events in real time on her Twitter feed, and later posted a full account on Facebook in Arabic (which she later translated into English), the violence began when the security forces moved to drive protesters out of the area with overwhelming volleys of tear gas, but only turned deadly after protesters responded with some kind of gunfire.

Writing on Twitter at 3:42 a.m. Cairo time on Monday, Mr. Helbawi reported: “they're really banging hard under our house and saying ‘God is great' in loud voices, it looks like there is shooting or some clashes and people are running.” She added her location with the hashtag, “#salahsalem.”

Seven minutes later, she wrote: “the police are shooting gas and the Brotherhood are shooting birdshot.”

In her retrospective Facebook account, Ms. Helbawi wrote that she first became aware of trouble in the street below her home shortly after the end of dawn prayers, when the protesters began to loudly bang on the lamp posts and chant “God is great” to warn that the military was beginning to move in. Then, she said, officers fired large amounts of tear gas and many protesters fled while others stood their ground.

“The protesters responded at first with rocks and stones, and then suddenly I heard the sound of gunfire - I could not tell if it was birdshot or live ammunition - and the police and army retreated very quickly to past the gas station and it became clear that these bullets were from the protesters' side,” Ms. Helbawi wrote. It was when the security forces returned, she said, that the officers began shooting as well.

As our colleagues in Cairo, David Kirkpatrick and Kareem Fahim reported, while Ms. Helbawi did not see the very start of the conflict, others, “including both supporters and opponents of Mr. Morsi, said the military and the police had fired with little or no provocation, unloading tear gas, birdshot and bullets.”

Video images of three men on the Islamist side firing shots in the direction of the security forces, released on Monday by the spokesman for Egypt's military, all appeared to have been recorded at a later stage of Monday's clashes, after sunrise.

Another female resident of the area who told Sky News in English that she saw protesters cut down by live fire coming from the direction of the massed security forces, suggested that “the attack” looked like a planned operation by the police and army to remove the protesters from the area. In a second account of what she witnessed posted on YouTube, the woman described the security operation as “an ambush” of the protesters.

Arabic-language video of a woman in Cairo who said she witnessed Monday's “Ambush” or protesters by the security forces.

Speaking in Arabic in the YouTube clip, the woman, who did not give her name, said the armored vehicles that moved in on the protesters “were exactly under my house.” She said that the security forces seemed to have little reason to fear the protesters who “were in lines, praying, and there wasn't anything going on…. I don't know what they were so afraid of.”

Describing her self as neutral - “I'm not with Morsi, I'm not with Sisi” - the woman was adamant that the demonstrators had not started the clash. “The ones opening fire and shooting birdshot were the armored cards from the Interior Ministry,” she said.

In her account, Ms. Helbawi also described seeing a large number of protesters seeking refuge in the nearby mosque, where some of the wounded apparently sought medical treatment before being taken away by ambulances. “Such a large number of protesters went in the mosque and sought shelter there that the sheik said it was a million wounded people,” she wrote.

Soon, though, they barricaded themselves inside the mosque and refused to leave, while chanting in support of protesters who had been arrested by the army. One part of the new video appears to show protesters being detained near the mosque. On Tuesday, the Nadeem Center, a human rights organization in Cairo, released the names of 647 people arrested during Monday's spasm of violence.

Ms. Helbawi also wrote that she watched a gunfight break out between soldiers and two protesters who she said climbed on the roof of the mosque. “One of the scenes that most stays with me, since I live on a high floor, was two people climbing the roof of the mosque and suddenly the army surrounded it, and then they started firing on the army from up on the roof,” she wrote.

Another video clip posted on YouTube on Tuesday, apparently recorded during Monday's clashes, featured graphic images of Islamist protesters being gunned down later in the day on El-Tayaran Street, which leads from Salah Salem Street to the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, where Morsi supporters have rallied for days. That annotated video appears to have been edited down from a 17-minute clip uploaded to YouTube on Monday, which showed a number of men crumple to the ground as gun shots rang out.

Video uploaded to YouTube on Monday appeared to show Islamist protesters being gunned down in Cairo.

Permeating this video, apparently recorded by a protester, is a sense of the importance of documenting the armed attack by the security forces. Just before the four-minute mark, young men display shell casings for the camera and one says, “live ammunition.” Off-camera someone else says “film it.” Moments later a voice says, “They're really shooting, they're really shooting!” About a minute later, another man says, “Tell the world that we are here, we are here, and the army is shooting us with live ammunition.”

Around 11 minutes in to the clip, an injured man who looks like a teenager is evacuated by motorcycle from the front line. He screams, “No! I want a car, I want a car. No, dad! Dad! Dad! No! Dad!” A man behind him replies, “Wait! Get on! Hold on!” The young man is then rushed away for treatment.

Later, the protesters chant: “Leave, Sisi! Leave, Sisi!”