CAIRO (Reuters) - In a Cairo mosque lie the charred and mutilated bodies of more than 200 Egyptians, apparently uncounted and unacknowledged by the state after security forces crushed Islamist protest camps.
Helpers at the Al-Iman mosque accused the government of ignoring the rows of corpses, laid out in white shrouds to await collection by relatives in a charnel house that looked like the aftermath of a battle from World War One.
Medics pushed burning incense sticks into blocks of ice covering the bodies and sprayed air freshener to cover up the overpowering stench of decay. A cry of “Allahu akbar” (God is Greatest) echoed through a loudspeaker at the back of the mosque.
Those working there said the bodies are not included in the official Health Ministry tally, which they said proved that far more people died on Wednesday than the 525 recorded by the state countrywide when the military-backed government moved against the Muslim Brotherhood of deposed president Mohamed Mursi.
“The ministry won’t acknowledge them, the police won’t acknowledge them,” said Wafaa Hefny, a professor of English literature at Al-Azhar University, who was helping medics at the mosque in northeast Cairo.
A Reuters reporter saw 228 bodies in Al-Iman mosque alone. An exact count was difficult because some were being moved and loaded into coffins for removal. Medics said their count had reached 259.
Some men pulled back the shrouds to reveal the corpses, some charred and with smashed skulls, others riddled with bullet holes in their heads and chests. Women knelt and wept beside some bodies while two men embraced each other and cried by another.
Protesters’ tent cities were set ablaze on Wednesday after the security forces moved in, apparently accounting for the charred state of some of the bodies.
Medics at the scene said the bodies had been moved straight to the mosque from a protest camp nearby. Heba Morayef, Egypt director at Human Rights Watch, said she had counted 235 bodies. “This indicates the toll will be higher,” she added.
Typically, Health Ministry casualty tolls include only bodies that have passed through hospitals, indicating the rows of dead at the mosque are uncounted in any official figures.
Hefny told Reuters that the bodies had been brought from the biggest camp, Rabaa al-Adawiya, by private car. More still lay in the remains of the camp, but security forces were preventing the mosque helpers from retrieving them, she said.
There were even problems getting official certificates to allow the bodies to be buried.
At the mosque, men joined hands to make a linked fence to let families looking for their relatives’ corpses enter and exit. Groups of men bearing coffins streamed down the steps every so often, chanting “There is no God but God”, while women in full face veils and long flowing robes sat by the gate, which was covered with posters of Mursi.
A police helicopter buzzed over the mosque. People pointed at it and chanted “down down with military rule”. Some waved their shoes at the helicopter in a gesture of disdain and defiance. “You dogs!” one man shouted.
Reporting by Alexander Dziadosz and Tom Perry; Writing by David Stamp