This selfie above was taken moments before the tragic incident
Mexico demands answers after attack on tourists.
Authorities confirm that eight Mexicans were killed.
Six injured Mexicans are hospitalized, Mexico’s foreign ministry says.
The death toll of Mexican tourists killed in a tragic case of mistaken identity in Egypt has climbed to eight, officials from both countries said Tuesday.
The tourists were on a safari with an Egyptian tour group and had stopped for some rest and a meal in Egypt’s Western Desert on Saturday when something went horribly wrong. Egyptian officials say security forces mistook the tourists for terrorists and fired on the group. Four Egyptians in the group were also killed.
Six Mexicans remained hospitalized in Cairo in stable condition, Mexico’s foreign ministry said. Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu was en route to Cairo on Tuesday along with the victims’ family members, the statement said.
Mexico’s government has condemned the incident, calling for an exhaustive investigation of what happened. The Mexican foreign ministry’s statement Tuesday said Ruiz Massieu “regrets the loss of life in an unwarranted aggression.”
The head of the tour guides union has disputed government accusations that the group did not have proper permits and was in cars not authorized for tours.
One of the tourists was diabetic and couldn’t wait until the group reached its destination to eat, the union’s Hassan El-Nahla said, so the group took a 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) detour off a paved road.
“There were no warning signs and no instructions from the checkpoints on the road or the tourism policeman accompanying them,” El-Nahla’s statement on Facebook said. “I strongly condemn the lack of coordination between the ministry of tourism, in not following up with the events, and the police.”
Egypt’s Western Desert draws tourists with spectacular landscapes such as the Great Sand Sea, which Egypt’s tourism board advertises as “the world’s third largest dune field.” All-terrain vehicles carry sightseers up and over dunes and past rock formations whittled by eons of wind-blown sand.
Tourists stop over at oases to enjoy rich desert culture and cuisine. But the area, which is next to Libya, has also become attractive to insurgents since the fall of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
Egypt’s foreign ministry posted a message on its Facebook page that officials said would be published in major Mexican newspapers Wednesday, expressing condolences.
This is the open letter addressed to the people of Mexico by Sameh Shoukry, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, (it was posted on the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Facebook page):
Open Letter from Egypt to the People of Mexico
I am writing this open letter to the Mexican people to express my deepest sympathy and condolences for the loss of innocent Mexican lives and the injury of other tourists on Egyptian soil on 13 September 2015.
I realise there is little that can be said to console the families and friends who are mourning the loss of their loved ones. The grief of losing a son, daughter, brother, sister, relative or friend in such a sudden and unexpected way is simply unimaginable. But perhaps, here in Egypt, we are closest to understanding just how deep this sorrow and grief may feel. We, of all people, have experienced first-hand such unfathomable loss. Throughout the past decades, and particularly the past few years, we have lost numerous innocent civilian lives to terrorist violence. This loss has encompassed hundreds if not thousands of law enforcement agents, who risk and often lose their lives while protecting civilians and their property, defusing bombs, and apprehending or fighting terrorists and criminals. As people who regularly put their lives in harm’s way to protect our communities, I assure you that they are the most cautious and careful when it comes to preserving the lives of others.
Having said that, Egypt is still in the process of investigating exactly what happened on that fateful day. The Egyptian authorities are unequivocally committed to uncovering the precise details of this tragedy. The chain of events is still confusing and unclear. There have been reports, many of them conflicting, regarding whether the tourist convoy had the necessary permits, whether it had taken a detour to a restricted area and whether the use of 4 wheel drives instead of a tourist bus had increased the risk of mistaken identification. The emerging facts indicate that an operation was taking place against terrorists in that area at the time the convoy passed. We still do not know if the convoy was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, or if some error was involved. I assure the Mexican people that an impartial inquiry is being held, under the leadership of Egypt’s Prime Minister himself, and that Egypt is prepared to do its utmost to help in any way it can, including through the expedited return of the bodies of the deceased to Mexico and the full treatment of the injured.
I am deeply troubled that some people have chosen to exploit this tragic event to allege that Egyptian law enforcement officials have no strict rules of engagement, act indiscriminately, or do not take the necessary precautions during their operations. They have intimated that more lives have been lost at the hands of Egypt’s law enforcement agents than at the hands of terrorists. This could not be farther from the truth.
These people forget that terrorism in Egypt has targeted tourists in the most despicable of ways. Controlling this huge threat in order to make the country safe for its citizens and visitors has cost Egypt the blood of many of its sons and daughters. It would defy reason to think that Egypt’s law enforcement authorities could ever deliberately harm innocent tourists. In fact, Egypt’s prosperity and the very livelihood of its citizens depend enormously on the tourism sector, which once employed 12% of our workforce and contributed more than 10% of GDP. More importantly, I assure you that Egypt’s law enforcement agents operate under a strict moral, ethical and legal code that seeks to avoid civilian casualties. This is a hallmark of our humanity and compassion. We have nothing to gain from the tragic incident of 13 September, and everything to lose.
Mexico, like Egypt, has suffered from large-scale violence, albeit for different motives. The drug war in Mexico has killed tens of thousands of innocent people, a large portion of them law enforcement officials. Organised crime groups have ruthlessly assassinated political figures and state officials. If anything, this shows that Egypt and Mexico face similar challenges. We are all together in the same boat, sailing in a stormy ocean. We hope this will drive us to maintain the mutual appreciation, solidarity, affection and friendship that have always existed between our two nations, governments and people. At no point has this been as important as it is now.
My own thoughts and prayers, as well as those of the Egyptian people and government are with the people of Mexico and the families of the victims of this sad event, both Mexican and Egyptian. We share your pain and your sorrow and hope that God Almighty will give us all the patience and wisdom to endure this unbearable loss.
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Arab Republic of Egypt