At least 12 people were killed and 10 others wounded on Sunday when Egyptian security forces mistook a convoy of mostly Mexican tourists for “terrorist elements” they were pursuing in the country’s vast western desert, Egypt’s interior ministry reported Monday.
Mexico has confirmed that two of its citizens were among the dead, noted Reuters.
“Mona el-Bakri, the spokeswoman for the Dar al-Fouad hospital where the wounded were being treated, says two of the seven Mexicans receiving treatment also hold American citizenship,” reported The Associated Press (AP).
“U.S. Embassy spokesman Brian Shott said officials are looking into whether an American citizen was involved in the incident,” added the report.
Citing unnamed security sources, Reuters noted that “the group of 22 had parked their four 4×4 vehicles off-road on Sunday for a barbecue near the Bahariya oasis, a tourist site in the western desert, when army aircraft suddenly began shelling them from above.”
Egyptian ground troops reportedly fired on members of the tourist convoy who attempted to flee.
“Mexico condemns these deeds against our citizens and has demanded an exhaustive investigation of what has occurred,” Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said on his Twitter account.
México condena estos hechos en contra de nuestros ciudadanos y ha exigido al gobierno de Egipto una exhaustiva investigación de lo ocurrido.
— Enrique Peña Nieto (@EPN) September 14, 2015
Claudia Ruiz Massieu, Mexico’s Foreign Minister, during a press conference said “her government had sent a diplomatic note to Egypt, expressing indignation and demanding a full inquiry,” Reuters reported.
The tourists were attacked by helicopters and an aircraft while they stopped in the desert, six Mexicans who survived reportedly told Mexico’s ambassador to Egypt.
“They each said separately they had been bombarded from the air by a plane and helicopters,” said Massieu.
Egypt’s Interior Ministry, in a statement, said that a joint military and police force was conducting security operations in El-Wahat (Western Oasis) in the western desert.
The security forces did not discover the four vehicles were carrying civilians and tourists until after they were “mistakenly dealt with,” added the ministry.
In the statement, the ministry also claimed the vehicles had traveled in a restricted area that was “off limits to foreign tourists.”
However, a local tour guide denied those allegations, telling BBC the group was in an “unrestricted area, on top of sand dunes, trying to get a bird’s eye view.”
Another local told BBC the tourist convoy had a police escort, adding that “The safari was organized by a local hotel which co-ordinated with the security forces.”
Nevertheless, Egyptian tourism federation chairman Elhamy Elzayat maintained that “The area is a restricted area, and the company made a mistake by taking the tourists to that area without a permit. They must obtain a permit before going there.”
According to Mexico’s foreign minister, Egypt will provide proper medical treatment to the victims and aid in the repatriation of the bodies back to Mexico, AP reported.
Egypt has been dealing with Islamist terrorism for years, particularly in the country’s Sinai Peninsula.
The Islamist insurgency gained momentum after the country’s military, led by Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi who now serves as Egypt’s president, overthrew his predecessor, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, in mid-2013 after mass protests broke out against his rule.
Hundreds of soldiers and police have been killed by the insurgency, which includes the Islamic State’s Egyptian affiliate, known as the Sinai Province.
“Security officials say militants operating from Libya to the west of Egypt have been trying to forge ties with Islamists in the Sinai on the east side of the country,” reported Reuters. “The vehicles used by the tourist convoy closely resembled those of the militants the joint force had been pursuing, security sources said.”
The Islamic State claimed that it had repelled an attack by the Egyptian military in the country’s western desert on Sunday, the day when the alleged case of mistaken identity took place.