EGYPT — The police captain says he has memories of pretending to be dead, of men being dragged around by cars, of a policeman being told by his attacker: “We will give you a slow death.”
Mohammed Abdel-Hamid was the sole survivor of an assault on a police station a few kilometers (miles) from the Pyramids in which 15 police were killed by supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi. An officer in his 20s, he lies in a police hospital in Cairo, shot in the shoulder and leg, recounting to The Associated Press what happened in Kirdasah, an impoverished village ordinarily known for its handmade rugs.
This decades-old confrontation between two perennial Egyptian foes — police and Islamists — has erupted anew after the ouster of Mohammed Morsi, the elected Islamist president on July 3. It turned bloody on Wednesday, when the military raided two protest camps of Morsi’s supporters in Cairo, killing hundreds of people.
The Kirdasah attack began three hours later, with the mob peppering the police station with firebombs and gunfire.
Inside were Police Chief Gen. Mohammed Gabr; his deputy, Amer Abdel-Maksoud; and seven other officers plus seven rank-and-file policemen and soldiers.
“The whole town was in the streets protesting and chanting,” Abdel-Hamid. The siege went on for six hours until “we ran out of ammunition and we got no reinforcements while the machine-gun and automatic-weapons fire got heavier.”
Rocket-propelled grenades demolished the outside gates and set vehicles on fire, he said. The last words he heard from the police chief on the phone to Cairo HQ were, “We are going to die here.”
He said heavy smoke forced the men out of the building where attackers tied some of them to cars and dragged them, beat them with wooden and metal poles, stabbed and poured acid on them, slashed their throats.
A video posted on social networking sites and circulated on newspaper websites such as el-Watan showed the police chief stripped of his clothes, sitting in a pool of blood, next to a dozen others. A second showed a scalped officer. A third showed one of the policemen on the asphalt with his back to a car that appeared to have been used in his dragging. Someone with face off-camera was seen killing a motionless man.
Abdel-Hamid said he and three soldiers fled into a residential building to seek refuge but he was turned back by an old man who called him “traitor.” He said he and others were dragged across the village to the steps of a mosque where others were lined up for beatings and mutilation.
“I still remember the sounds of the prayers blaring from loudspeakers just behind me, but that didn’t stop the bearded men from finally opening fire on all of us,” the captain said. He slumped beside the bodies, pretending he too was dead, and like the others was covered in a sheet.
Later two men discovered he was alive and spared him, thinking he was a poor soldier, he said. They “were filming me and asking me to complain about the Interior Ministry not sending us reinforcements,” he said.
He said he was put on a motorcycle taxi, dumped in front of a relative’s home and then taken to the police hospital.
For Egyptians, the current violence is reminiscent of the Islamist insurgency that raged in through part of the 1980s and 1990s. Hundreds were slain on both sides. Security forces stormed villages and killed dozens; militants on motorcycles assassinated officers. Foreigners and Egyptian Christians were targets of terrorist attacks.
“These days are back,” said policeman Yasser Abdel-Hamid, speaking at the Police Hospital in Cairo after visiting his injured boss. After five days of deadly street battles with pro-Morsi supporters, “I can’t sleep for the sound of whistling sniper fire,” he said.
And the loss of life continues on both sides. On Sunday, 36 jailed Morsi supporters suffocated to death after tear gas allegedly was fired into a truck during an attempted escape when a prisoner transfer came under fire. The circumstances of the killings remain murky given conflicting reports by state-run media claiming gunmen attacked the truck, sparking clashes.
And on Monday security forces said suspected Islamic militants ambushed off-duty policemen traveling in the Sinai Peninsula, forced them out of their two minibuses and shot 25 of them dead.