One of the victims, Yehia Negm, an Egyptian diplomat, told AP he was dragged on the ground to the center where he was beaten. He is suffering from multiple injuries in the head, eye, nose, and ribs from beating and had remains of pellets in his forehead from gunfire during the clashes.
‘‘When they found my ID that says a diplomat, they started accusing me of working with security agencies, of being a spy and of serving foreign countries,’’ Negm said. ‘‘They rained beatings down on me. They started yelling at me, saying, ‘You infidels, you want to burn the country down, you are not Muslims.'’’
Around 20 Islamists manned the center, made up of metal barricades erected against the palace wall, said Mohammed Elgarhy, a local journalist with the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm who snuck in and spent nearly four hours there. Among them was a man he recognized as a well-known Brotherhood lawyer and two others he overheard speaking with a Brotherhood leader. The others, who he said he believed were Brotherhood members, carried out the beatings and interrogations.
‘‘The Brotherhood were carrying out the job of the Interior Ministry,’’ Elgarhy told AP. ‘‘They would arrest anyone they suspected ... asking them questions such as who paid for you to come here.’’
Troops from the Central Security Forces guarded the site, but did not interfere, he said. The Brotherhood has not addressed accusations about the detention center but says it did seize protesters and hand them over to police.
The violence came a day after hundreds of thousands marched on the palace in Cairo’s upper middle class district of Heliopolis, demanding Morsi withdraw the draft constitution and sweeping powers that he had given himself in a series of decrees.
After the rally, several dozen protesters remained in the tent camp. In response, the Brotherhood called a ‘‘general mobilization’’ of its members, and its spokesman said the group will protect the legitimacy of the president and state institutions.
The next day, last Wednesday, the lines of Islamists stormed the camp, chanting ‘‘God is great’’ and ‘‘Islamic law is fundamental in Egypt,’’ as they tore down tents and chased away the protesters. They then ransacked the tents. Brotherhood supporters claimed they found evidence of drug use at the camp — though they never showed any — and that burnt charcoal and processed cheese in the tents proved the protest was foreign funded, without explanation. The accusations were reminiscent of those leveled by the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak against the protesters who rose up against his rule in early 2011.
As news of the attack spread, more anti-Morsi protesters arrived on the scene. Buses, seen parked nearby, brought in Brotherhood supporters. By sunset a full-fledged street battle transformed Heliopolis into a war zone, spreading over at least three fronts near the palace. Protesters and witnesses put the number of Morsi supporters at up to 12,000 compared to several thousand protesters.
At the height of the fighting, leading Brotherhood member Essam el-Erian went on Misr 25, a TV station affiliated with the group to call on Morsi supporters to go to the scene ‘‘in the tens of thousands to besiege those thugs because now is the moment to arrest them’’ and expose the conspiracy. He called the protesters counter-revolutionaries who want to carry out ‘‘a coup against legitimacy.’’
Bearded men in short robes waved sticks in the air as they chased groups of young men and women down darkened alleys while gunfire echoed in the background.
A resident of a building overlooking one front line said Morsi supporters appeared to be operating by what a well-rehearsed plan. They came prepared with metal sheets for barricades and motorcycles with small trailers attached brought loads of stones to pelt protesters with. The resident spoke on condition his name not be used for fear of retribution.
Some Morsi supporters were armed with rifles, firing from the edges of the front lines to avoid being detected, said Mahmoud Zaghloul, a 22-year old protester who got hit with a rock in his head. He also said many in the Morsi camp came prepared with helmets with plexi-glass face screens.
At least one video shown on a private TV station shows a man in the Morsi camp, wearing a full helmet, taking a professional shooter position, bending his knees and aiming with a rifle.
‘‘One of the most disturbing things was how they chanted ‘God is Great’ as they aimed at us,’’ as if they were firing at infidels, Zaghloul said.Continued...