On July 1, nine of the Muslim Brotherhood’s most senior leaders were traveling from the Nile Delta for their secretive weekly meeting in a deserted district in the southern outskirts of Cairo. Meanwhile, a five-member special police force was getting ready for what would become a lethal raid.
Inside a small apartment in a yellowish five-story building, the nine men — most of them in their 50s, some of them prominent lawyers and former lawmakers — took off their shoes and sat cross-legged around a small wooden table laden with a pile of money and documents.
By 9 am, at least one of the men telephoned a relative to assure him that he had arrived safe and sound. Two hours later, all nine men were dead.
The motive behind the killings that shook the quiet Abouel Wafa residential compound remains shrouded in ambiguity. Reports about what happened in the space of time between the raid and the deaths of the Brotherhood members are conflicting, and lack hard facts.
The raid came after a police agent tipped off the National Security Agency about an upcoming meeting of “commanders of significant operations to plot a series of sabotage attacks aiming to disrupt the state,” according to a senior security official at the 6th of October Second Police Station. He says the planned attacks were meant to mark the second anniversary of former President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster.
A special forces group was sent to inspect the site of the Brotherhood leader’s meeting before it actually took place, the official says.
Other security officials — including a top criminal investigations officer at the 6th of October City Police Station, who witnessed the raid — say the Islamists were the first to open fire, shooting from behind a closed door in the apartment the minute the police forces approached at around 10 am. Their offensive sparked a gun battle that lasted for about an hour and a half, and ended with all nine men dead, the official claims.
After the raid, the security forces allegedly recovered documents titled “Decisiveness,” which reportedly included plans on how to carry out attacks on police stations.
Security authorities released a video and pictures of the men’s bloodied bodies on the Interior Ministry’s Facebook page. Four bodies were photographed lined up next to each other, laying face-down, while two other bodies were still seated behind the wooden table. A few of the men had blood streaming from bullet holes in upper areas of their bodies. Black rifles were pictured next to the motionless cadavers, as were their IDs and pieces of paper carrying their names.
The images showed that the apartment was still intact: no damage from bullets or bloodstains was visible, nor any sign of resistance to the forces that raided the apartment. Even the table where the men sat remained unharmed, with the money and documents still resting on it.
Attempts to get National Security prosecutors to comment on the officials’ claims were unsuccessful. Tamer al-Fergany, the top National Security prosecutor handling the case, refused to comment before “it is all over.”
Copies of death certificates of the slain men obtained by Mada Masr list the causes of death, which included bullet wounds, broken bones, internal bleeding and “organs torn apart.”
At the Abouel Wafa buildings, the door of the apartment is fortified by a second black steel gate. Both of these doors were locked on this reporter’s visit. Two small satellite dishes connected with cables coming from underneath the doors were installed outside the apartment. Dried blood stained the stairs and the entrance. Medical gloves were scattered on stairways and next to the entrance. Trash, abandoned shoes and slippers, and a dead puppy were visible.
Residents say they woke up to the sounds of gunfire, prompting terrified neighbors to lock themselves inside their apartments for nearly half a day. A housewife who was heading out to dump garbage quickly returned indoors upon hearing the gunfire, and recalls that around 9.30 am, it was quiet again. A female vegetable-seller setting up a stall of cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots close to the entrance of the building says she was ordered by security forces to remain indoors.
As calls for sunset prayers rang out, nine ambulances lined up in front of the building, says a young man who works in an adjacent real-estate company. Ambulance workers transported the bodies of the slain men one by one to the waiting vehicles, each of them wrapped in black plastic bags.
Meanwhile, family members say the bodies showed signs of torture, stabbing and other injuries that could not have been sustained from just a shoot-out. Fingers of the slain men were stained in ink, which their family members believe indicates that they were arrested and interrogated prior to the killings.
The families say that the men had gathered to sort out donations collected for families of detainees, and that the police detained them before killing them “in cold blood,” perhaps to take revenge for the humiliating and shocking militant attacks on the military checkpoints that day in the far northeastern Sinai Peninsula. But the families have no proof of their claims.
Officials dispute this narrative of events. They say that fingerprinting bodies is a normal procedure, and that the police used 9 mm bullets in the gun battle, which cause no blood splatter. Forensic reports, which would provide the only evidence backing up the torture claims, have yet to be released.
Lawyer Sayyed Abu Arab, one of several individuals filing lawsuits against the Interior Ministry for “murdering” the men, describes the nine Brotherhood members as the “nucleus” leadership of at least four Delta provinces, and a “key link between the provinces and its lower ranks within the group’s leadership.”
“To crush it is a painful blow to the group, and heavily impacts the group’s chain of command,” Abu Arab says.
In a statement following the killings, the Muslim Brotherhood described the event as ushering in a new phase in the wave of atrocities committed against Islamists by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s administration. This episode has turned the Sisi administration into a gangster state that follows no laws, the statement declared.
Security authorities have recently been dealing out blows to middle-ranking Brotherhood members, as most of the leadership has either been arrested or has fled the country.
Those killed in the raid included Hesham Khafagy, the Brotherhood’s top man in Qalyubiya, and the husband of lawmaker Hoda Ghaniya; lawyer Hesham Wadah from Gharbiya; businessman Abdel Fattah Ibrahim al-Sisi, whom security officials describe as the Brotherhood’s “defense minister,” but who the group claims is the head of the “Committee Supporting Families of Martyrs and Injured”; Taher Ismail, deputy head of the Qalyubiya Brotherhood Administrative Bureau; former lawmaker in Kafr al-Sheikh Al-Sayyed Dweidar; and Gamal Khalifa, top Brotherhood official in Monufiya.
Most of these men were on the run, changing their locations from time to time to elude arrest. They hadn’t slept in their homes for months, and spoke to their families only in emergencies.
Also in the group was 55-year-old Osama al-Husseini, who was a candidate in the parliamentary elections in 2010 and headed the Teachers Syndicate and City Council of Motobas in Kafr al-Sheikh. His son, Essam, says that his father, a teacher-turned-businessman, is wanted in several cases that carry various prison sentences, including a 21-year sentence. According to Essam, Husseini has always been on the run, hiding in apartments in Alexandria and other provinces. Essam adds that the group would hold a meeting in a different location each week, and that he knew that this week the meeting was to take place in Cairo.
Husseini had seven bullet wounds across his body and multiple stab wounds in the shoulder, his son says. His hand looked as it if had been smashed, and you “could see the bones protruding from his skin.” The father had left his phone at home, and his son received a phone call at 9 am from another member at the meeting saying Husseini had arrived safely at the location.
Hussieni walked with a wooden cane, suffered from diabetes and had lost sight in one eye, says Essam. “Look at the pictures. My father’s cane is far from his body; how come? He can’t walk one step without it,” he says, adding, “I believe they killed him somewhere outside the apartment.”
Prominent lawyer and former lawmaker Nasser al-Hafy, who comes from Qalyubiya, had been in hiding for the past two years after he was sentenced to death in the 2011 jail break case, in which Morsi himself was also sentenced to death. His son, Ahmed, says that the last time he saw his father was August 15, 2013, a day after the violent dispersal of the sprawling Muslim Brotherhood encampment at Rabea al-Adaweya that left at least 1,000 people dead and thousands more injured.
Moatasem al-Ugaizy, a 25-year-old former head of the Student Union, left his city of Mahalla in the Gharbiya Governorate and told his mother he was heading out just after dawn prayers, his mother recalls.
“He only told me not to worry, that he would be fine. He never talked about his work,” she says.
“He chose to be a martyr. He prayed. He always talked about heaven, but separation is painful,” she continues. The mother claims that when she saw her son’s body, it was littered with five bullet wounds, and his ribs were broken.
At the 6th of October City Police Station, a top criminal investigations officer who witnessed the raid reenacts the scene. Pointing at his office door, he says the minute security forces approached, Hafi, Sisi and Ismail opened fire from behind the wooden door, prompting the five-member force to return fire.
“They are the ones who started it,” he claims. “We had no option but to fire back. The weapons used were our guns.” He sets his gun down and shows me small bullets similar to those used in the killings.
“Then there were skirmishes before they were all gunned down,” he continues.
However, he and a second senior security official both stress that there was no evidence that the men had any connection to recent attacks, including the assassination of Prosecutor General Hesham Barakat.
“These are separate issues. But they were plotting similar attacks,” he asserts. As opposed to the narrative recounted by area residents and family members of the deceased, the official recalls that the gun battles started at 10 am and ended around 11.30. However, the forces left the scene at dusk, between 7 and 8 pm.
When asked if his forces had been provoked by that morning’s attacks in Sinai, he shakes his head, saying, “We are not mercenaries. We are a professional force and we don’t do that.”
Since Morsi’s removal from power, Egypt has sunk into violence. The early months-long mass demonstrations and sit-ins demanding his reinstatement triggered large-scale security crackdowns. Thousands of the group’s members and supporters were killed, injured or detained. Top leaders were sentenced to death in mass trials. Many fled the country, and others remain on the run. The government branded the group as a terrorist organization at the end of 2013, while more extreme and violent militant groups — including the Islamic State-affiliated Province of Sinai — carry out suicide bombings and deadly attacks, mainly targeting police and military forces or facilities.
Extrajudicial killings are feared to become a hallmark of a new era in which police unleash excessive force to swiftly settle scores with Islamists outside the courtroom. Islamists accuse the government of acting in response to Sisi’s vow of “prompt justice,” and speeding up procedures to implement death sentences. The military chief-turned-president was addressing mourners during Barakat’s funeral a day before the nine Brotherhood leaders died. In the last quarter of a century, Egypt has not witnessed an assassination of a top state official at the hands of suspected Islamists. Barakat was the first.
Asked if they decided to kill the Brotherhood members in response to Sisi’s call for “prompt justice,” the officer says, “I wish we could do that, but we can’t.”