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Egyptian prisoners gassed to death in an increasingly grisly war

January 23, 2014 at 7:04 am

These days, as the sun rises over Egypt it brings with it death, violence and arrests. On Sunday it brought with it an episode worse than your darkest nightmares.

As a convoy of police trucks crossed the dusty streets of Cairo carrying some 600 prisoners (some Brotherhood some not), 38 of them were gassed to death inside.

Egyptian police trucks are a sinister looking affair. Dark blue and tall they have tiny windows right at the top. What there is of an opening is partly obstructed by a metal mesh.

Like all things Egypt, a country increasingly wracked with polarised discourse, there are a number of accounts which have emerged from the incident.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Hany Abdel Latif has said that the detainees died after taking a policeman hostage inside the van. They then suffocated after inhaling tear gas, which was fired into the truck to break them up and free the officer.

The state media – who have sided wholeheartedly with Al Sisi and his gang since the violence began – reported that the prisoners were attempting to escape and so were shot as they tried to get out of the van.

But human rights lawyer, Osama al-Mahdy, tells a different version of events. After he visited the morgue and saw the dead bodies he told Daily News Egypt that there was no sign of bullets on the corpses and that their faces were blue from what appeared to be suffocation.

Reuters reports that a legal source told them 38 men died of asphyxiation in the back of the crowded police van and Egypt’s Anti-Coup Alliance leaders have said the bodies at the morgue showed the marks of violence.

Their ‘suffocation’ is the latest incident in a wave of violence that began last Wednesday when security forces stormed pro-Morsi demonstrations, killing his backers who are demanding the deposed President’s reinstatement.

Since then, in a series of deadly incidents, at least 800 deaths is the toll cited in the media. The EuroMid Observer for Human Rights has documented 1215 dead, 8,000 injured and 1,500 missing. The Muslim Brotherhood says it is far higher.

The fate of each is as grisly as the one that precedes it; suffocating from tear gas, burning alive in tents, live bullets fired by snipers in uniforms shooting from rooftops and the targeting of journalists and hospitals.

One disturbing video showed protestors sliding down a rope or metal wire to escape from a bridge where live bullets were being fired.

Another report described Egyptians writing their names on their arms so as not to get lost in the morgue if they were to be shot to death by the army.

A video posted on You Tube recorded an Egyptian witness, not affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood or any other political party, someone who “does not like the Brotherhood in the first place,” witnessed the army dumping bodies on rubbish dumps and pouring detergent over their bodies

With the death toll in Egypt terrifyingly high since the crackdown started last Wednesday, violent occurrences have proved to be escalating, not slowing down.

Analysts predict more bloodshed, but as with drawn out conflicts across the world, onlookers are in danger of becoming de-sensitised to the death toll. Al Sisi appears to have no hang ups about what the international community think of him. Neither he nor the Brotherhood is set to back down.

In July this year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that more than 2,000 had died in Syria since the start of Ramadan. Around 100,000 have been killed since the start of the conflict. Tragically the revolution against Assad has become background noise.

The international community must act now, so Al Sisi does not continue to murder Egyptians with impunity, and we find the world has yet another rolling conflict.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.