Mexico condemns accidental killing of tourists by Egypt army

DPA correspondents

Cairo (dpa) - Mexico on Monday condemned the killing of two of its citizens in a mistaken attack by security forces in Egypt's troubled Western Desert, while the Egyptian tourism ministry said the company that organised their trip would be "severely punished."

"Mexico condemns these acts against our citizens and has demanded an exhaustive investigation by the Egyptian government into what occurred," Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto wrote on Twitter.

The Egyptian interior ministry early on Monday said that security forces had opened fire by mistake on vehicles carrying Mexican tourists in the Western Desert, killing 12 people.

The Mexican presidency said two of its citizens had been killed and five injured.

Troops had been pursuing terrorists in a prohibited area when they shot at the convoy of four-wheel drive vehicles used by the tourists, the Egyptian Interior Ministry said.

Initial information

The official Middle East News Agency quoted Tourism Ministry spokesperson Rasha El Azayzy as saying that initial information indicated that the tourist group did not have permits for the trip.

Minister Khaled Ramy had ordered that the company responsible for the trip be "severely punished", she added.

The interior ministry said that 10 Egyptians and Mexicans were also injured.

Details of the incident remained unclear. An employee of a hotel in the Bahareyya oasis, 250km south-east of Cairo, said that the victims had been touring the area prior to checking in at the hotel.

The area is popular with tourists for its desert scenery and oases, but several embassies currently warn against trips there due to the presence of militants, including the Egyptian branch of Islamic State.

The hotel's manager and two of its drivers were among the dead, the employee, who asked not to be named, told dpa.

"Some of the drivers have been working in the area for over 20 years," the employee added. "There's no way they would have entered restricted areas."

State-run newspaper Al Ahram reported an exchange of fire between security troops and suspected terrorists in the area late on Sunday.

Militant attacks

It said seven "terrorists" were killed in the shootout, according to an unnamed security official.

On Sunday, a statement published on the internet in the name of Islamic State's Egyptian branch said it had repulsed an army attack in the Western Desert and beheaded a "spy for the apostate Egyptian army".

It published photographs showing militants with four wheel drive vehicles firing from behind sand dunes.

Egyptian security forces have been the target of militant attacks since the army's 2013 overthrow of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi following massive street protests against his rule.

In July last year 22 troops were killed in an attack on a checkpoint near the Farafra oasis, south of Bahareyya.

The Western Desert extends to Egypt's 1 115 km-long border with Libya, which is currently suffering from a civil war.

Arms destined for Egyptian militants are thought to be frequently smuggled across that border.