*WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT*
Photos have emerged showing a man shot dead in what appears to be an extrajudicial killing by Egyptian authorities, casting doubt on Egypt's claim that it executed "terrorists" following Friday's deadly attack.
The photos – which were published by Arabic-language news site Veto Gate – show a man lying face down in what at first appears to be an empty room, his hands tied behind his back and blood covering the floor. However a second image shows the same man with his hands unbound, his left hand seemingly moved to be placed near a machine gun in order to "justify" the extrajudicial killing.
The images cast doubt on Egypt's claim that it killed 40 "terrorists" it alleges were behind Friday's attack on a tourist bus in Giza, near Egypt's iconic pyramids in the south of the capital Cairo. Three Vietnamese tourists and an Egyptian guide were killed when their bus was hit by an explosion from an improvised device at around 18:15 local time (16:15 GMT). A further 11 others were left injured in what was labelled the first deadly attack against foreign tourists in Egypt for more than a year.
Barely 24 hours after the attack, Egypt's Interior Ministry claimed the country's security forces had killed "40 terrorists in fire exchange as part of a crackdown on terrorist hideouts in Giza and North Sinai governorates". According to Egypt Today, the Interior Ministry explained that it had "received information that these terrorists were planning to commit many hostile operations against State facilities and Christian places of worship". It also claimed that "forces seized large amounts of weapons, ammunition and explosive devices and materials" while carrying out the raids.
The images included in Egypt Today's coverage of these killings bear striking similarity to the photos revealed today, with two men laid face down with a gun placed close to one of their hands.
Speaking to MEMO, Egyptian human rights researcher Ahmad El-Attar explains that several important questions need to be raised about the photographs and the Egyptian Interior Ministry's narrative. "First of all, no names of the alleged terrorists have been released and the families have not been informed that they should come collect the bodies of the dead," El-Attar explains, adding: "If you suspect someone was involved in carrying out an attack, you of course know their personal details, so why have no names been released even though we are now three days on from the incident in Giza?" The answer, he says, is that "those killed did not carry out the attack on Friday but rather have likely been forcibly disappeared and languishing in Egypt's prisons for months."
El-Attar also argues that several details in the photographs point to the fact that this was an extrajudicial killing by Egyptian security forces, as opposed to a "fire exchange" as claimed by the Interior Ministry. El-Attar explains:
If you had 40 people holding machine guns, at least one would have survived and have been arrested. No Egyptian security forces were reported injured, and there are no bullet holes on the walls that indicate a struggle.
El-Attar also believes that the man in the picture – whose identity remains unknown – was shot at close range. "If you shoot from afar as you would in a raid, there wouldn't be that much blood on the floor," he explains, citing his own experience in the army: "The man was clearly shot in the head from a short distance."
Egypt is no stranger to doctoring media in a bid to add weight to its narrative and cover up its extrajudicial killings. In May, a leaked video appeared to show a child being executed by an Egyptian army officer in the country's Sinai Peninsula. Though the killing took place in 2015, the video was only leaked in May after being sent to Egyptian activist Haitham Ghoneim by a soldier who was serving in the Sinai at the time. Ghoneim drew attention to a statement posted on Twitter earlier in 2018 which showed a picture of what appears to be the same boy with bomb-making equipment placed next to his body.
"The Egyptian authorities orchestrate such cover-ups to impress the West," El-Attar says: "They want to perpetuate a narrative that what they are doing is part of the War on Terror, and have little concern for public opinion in Egypt." For El-Attar, such killings have become commonplace, with 83 Egyptians killed by the army in December alone. "The reality is that killing Egyptians has become systematic," he adds, stressing that: "Neither the army, security forces nor police are ever questioned about why they killed this or that civilian, meaning they act with total impunity."
Egypt claims to be waging a war on terror in the Sinai Peninsula against local Daesh affiliate "Sinai Province". Since 2013 this has led to a violent crackdown, which intensified earlier this year when the Egyptian government launched Sinai 2018 ahead of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi's deadline to "restore stability and security" to the region. Organisations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) have claimed that "fighting in Sinai has been marred by widespread government abuses including secret detentions, extrajudicial executions, and military trials of civilians".