The Mexican ambassador to Egypt visited on Monday the survivors of an accidental military airstrike on a convoy of Mexican tourists in the Western Desert the day before.
The survivors, six Mexican citizens who are currently being treated at the Dar al-Fouad hospital in the Cairo suburbs, told the ambassador that they were attacked from the air by bombs thrown from an airplane and helicopters, said a statement from the Mexican ministry of foreign affairs. After the assault, the survivors were evacuated from the scene by civilian and military vehicles before ambulances took them to the hosptial.
As of Monday afternoon, the Mexican government said it had confirmed the identities of two deceased tourists, while the hospital spokesperson told the Associated Press that two of the 10 people wounded in the attack held dual American and Mexican citizenship. A US official said one American woman was inured in the incident.
Atef Sabry, a tribal leader from the area where the attack happened, told Mada Masr that four of the five Egyptian drivers and guides accompanying the tourists were also killed in the attack.
The ministry statement indicated that the convoy was in a restricted area. But as details regarding the unclear circumstances of the incident continue to emerge, on Monday afternoon a Tourism Ministry adviser claimed that the tourist convoy had an official police escort accompanying them through the area.
Moataz al-Sayed, a member of the ministry’s tourism advisory board and former head of the General Tourist Guides Syndicate, told Mada Masr that the convoy had received the necessary permissions and clearances. He claimed the group did not receive any warnings that the area they were passing through was restricted, whether from the police escort or from the soldiers at the military checkpoints they had passed through.
The tour guides could not have known about any areas that were off-limits, Sayed said. “There were no signs or flags and none of the checkpoints warned them against any restrictions.”
The Ministry of Tourism issued a statement regretting the incident, saying investigations are underway and findings will be announced as soon as possible.
The bodies of the Egyptian victims are still lying in the desert, however, according to Amr Imam, a lawyer at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, whose relative was killed in the attack.
Imam, who was on his way to the scene of the attack by the time of publication, told Mada Masr that neither the prosecution nor the forensics want to investigate, citing other family members who have been at the Western Desert since yesterday.
“That means that the bodies have already deteriorated,” he said, “although the incident happened only 500 meters away from the road.”
Imam said that tour guide Awad Fathy and the other victims were killed by an Apache, according to eyewitnesses, including the driver, who is the only Egyptian who survived the attack.
Mexican President Peña Nieto condemned the incident on Twitter, saying, “Mexico condemns these events against our citizens and has demanded that the Egyptian government launch an exhaustive investigation into what happened.”
In a phone call on Monday, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry expressed condolences to his Mexican counterpart, explaining that the tourists were in a restricted area and that their presence coincided with an ongoing operation against terrorists.
Shoukry further explained that the tourists were in cars that are similar to those of suspects in the operation, according to a statement issued on the ministry’s website.
He assured the Mexican foreign minister that the Interior Ministry will investigate the matter, and that the Egyptian government will provide all necessary medical assisstance for the injured, as well as facilitate the transfer of the bodies back to their home country.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid declined any further comment on the incident, deferring to the Interior Ministry statement.
Earlier on Sunday, the Islamic State released a statement on social media saying they had exchanged fire with the Egyptian military in the Western Desert.
The civilian deaths are the latest in a country embroiled in a violent conflict with Islamist insurgents, focused in the area of North Sinai. On the same day as the attack, the Armed Forces announced the deaths of 53 insurgents in North Sinai, claiming a total of 349 insurgent deaths since September 7.