6 Jul 2013

Priest shot as Egypt death toll rises to more than 30

Gunmen shoot dead a Coptic Christian priest in Egypt’s lawless Northern Sinai in what could be the first sectarian attack since the military overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi.

A new Islamist group announced its formation in the lawless Sinai peninsula adjoining Israel and the Gaza Strip, calling the army’s ousting of Morsi a declaration of war on their faith and threatening violence to impose Islamic law.

The group, calling itself Ansar al-Shariah in Egypt, said it would gather arms and start training its members, in a statement posted on an online forum.

It adds to the death toll as Egypt counts its dead after Islamists, enraged by the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi, take to the streets in an explosion of violence.

More than 30 people have died and more than 1,000 were wounded after Morsi’s Muslim brotherhood movement “Friday of Rejection” protests were held across the country as participants tried to march on the military compound where the ousted president is held.

The most deadly clashes were in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, where 14 people died and 200 were wounded.

In central Cairo, pro- and anti-Mursi protesters fought pitched battles late into the night with stones, knives, petrol bombs and clubs as armoured personnel carriers rumbled among them.

Street fights

The Nile River bridges around the landmark Egyptian Museum where the street fights raged were still covered with the debris of rocks and shattered glass this morning. Both pro- and anti-Mursi activists remained encamped in different squares in the capital.

The first deaths came early on Friday when three protesters were shot dead outside the Republican Guard barracks where deposed Mursi is being held, but the army denied responsibility for the shootings.

Later, tens of thousands of cheering Islamists gathered near a mosque in a Cairo suburb where they were addressed by Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie, free to address them despite reports on Thursday that he had been arrested.

The Health Ministry said 30 people were killed throughout Egypt on Friday, and 1,138 injured.

Transition period

State-owned newspapers said the army-backed authorities that took power on Wednesday and suspended the constitution would announce the appointment of a prime minister on Saturday to run the country during a transition period.

The military has given few details and no timeframe for a new ballot – adding to political uncertainty at a time when many Egyptians fear violence could polarise society even further.

Egypt’s first freely elected president was toppled after mass demonstrations against Muslim brotherhood rule, the latest twist in a tumultuous two years since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in the Arab Spring uprisings that swept the region in 2011.

Five police officers were gunned down in separate incidents in the North Sinai town of El Arish, and while it was not clear whether the attacks were linked to Morsi’s ouster, hardline Islamists there have warned they would fight back.

Checkpoints attacked

There were more attacks on army checkpoints in the lawless Sinai peninsula overnight and gunmen fired on central security building in the town of El-Arish.