An Irish citizen caught up in the violence in Egypt told family here she was being beaten by security forces as she and her three siblings were removed from a mosque where they had taken refuge from fighting in the street.
They were the last words heard from Fatima Halawa, 23, from Firhouse, Dublin before the mobile phone she had been using to keep family members updated went dead on Saturday afternoon.
Intensive diplomatic efforts were continuing last night to ensure the safety of Ms Halawa, her sisters, Omaima, 21, and Somaia, 27, and their 17-year-old brother, Ibrihim, who were understood to be detained in a Cairo prison after the al-Fath mosque was stormed.
The Irish ambassador to Egypt, Isolde Moylan, has requested a consular visit with the siblings, and the Department of Foreign Affairs has been in discussion with the Egyptian embassy in Ireland to seek assurances about their treatment.
Minister of state at the department, Joe Costello, said yesterday the Government had been “very active” in pursuing the case.
He said safe passage from the besieged mosque had been arranged for the siblings on Saturday. “Unfortunately events caught up with that and there was confusion and the mosque was cleared by security forces.”
Nasaybi Halawa, a sister of the four, said she had told Fatima by phone that it had been arranged for them to leave the mosque where hundreds of other people were huddled but the situation was already volatile.
“My sister said, ‘I’m not moving from here — they threatened me [that] if you go out, you will be dead,” she told RTÉ.
She said army and police had already begun shooting in the mosque after surrounding it for hours, leaving people trapped inside with dead bodies and injured people and no medical or food supplies.
Fatima was on the phone to Nasaybi as she and her siblings were being taken away. “She said, ‘they are beating me, they are beating me’ and the line cuts off. That is the last time we heard from them.”
The siblings are the children of Imam Hussein Halawa, the senior cleric at the Clonskeagh Mosque in Dublin. The family have lived in Ireland since 1996 and are Irish citizens but it is unclear whether the Egyptian authorities will grant them any concessions because of their legal status as foreigners.
They had travelled with their mother to Cairo to spend holidays with family there, as they did most summers, and were on the streets during an initially peaceful protest by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi when shooting broke out and they fled to the mosque.
Their mother is also in Cairo but Nasaybi Halawa said her mother had no information about her children and had been advised to keep a low profile in case she too was taken in to custody. She was trying to get a solicitor to make enquiries on her behalf.
Ms Halawa said she was concerned about her brother, who got his Leaving Cert results and is due to start college here next month. She said he looked older than his age and she was scared how he would be treated by authorities.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved