UK & World News
Egypt Crisis: Irish Siblings 'In Cairo Jail'
Four Irish siblings caught up in the violence in Cairo are being held by Egyptian authorities, their family has said.
Omaima Halawa, 20, her two sisters Fatima, 22, Somaia, 27, and their younger brother Ibrihim, 17, were among hundreds of people cleared out of the al Fath mosque when security forces stormed the building on Saturday.
They were forced to seek sanctuary in the mosque on Friday after violent clashes between supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi and the security forces killed more than 80 people.
Hundreds of Morsi supporters also fled to the building in the Ramses area of Cairo, shoving furniture against the doors to stop police from breaking their way in.
Speaking from the family home in Firhouse, south Dublin, another sister Nasaybi Halawa said her four siblings were being held at one of Cairo's jails.
She spoke out as it emerged that dozens Muslim Brotherhood supporters had been killed in an incident at an Egyptian prison.
The interior ministry said 36 detainees died after suffocating on tear gas during an attempted prison break.
A ministry spokesman said: "Thirty-six of the prisoners died of suffocation and crowding after tear gas was used to stop their escape."
Ms Halawa said: "The latest we know is that they are in one of the jails in Cairo. But we do not know if they are all together or whether they have been separated - boys and girls."
The family are concerned that teenage Ibrihim, who has just completed his Leaving Certificate, may have been separated from his sisters.
"It is very hard. We just know that they are being held," Ms Halawa said.
"We don't know if they have food supplies or water, whether they have slept or whether or not they will be released.
"We are worried - are they safe, were they beaten or injured while leaving the mosque? We just don't know."
The siblings, whose father is the imam of Dublin's largest mosque, have not been able to contact their family directly and it is understood their mobile phones have been seized.
Ms Halawa said her mother, who is staying with relatives in Egypt, had been contacted by a woman who had seen Omaima in one of the detention centres.
The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs has confirmed they are working closely with counterparts in Egypt in a bid to secure the safe release of the family.
The Halawas had travelled to Egypt earlier this summer for a holiday and were joined by their mother a fortnight ago.
Ms Halawa said: "They thought the mosque is a holy place and that they would be safe there.
"They phoned my father and told him they were in the mosque and that they were going to pray and afterwards would leave. But, by the time prayer time had finished they were surrounded."
Speaking from inside the mosque on Saturday Omaima Halawa, a student, said she did not feel safe enough to leave the building without a diplomatic escort.
She also told Irish national broadcaster RTE that "thugs" outside the mosque had threatened to kill her if she left the building and said others who had tried to flee were "taken".
The Egyptian government said 385 people inside the mosque had been arrested and that a total of 79 people had died in violent clashes across the country on Saturday.
Following the chaos, Egypt's army chief General Abdel Fattah al Sisi vowed to stand firm in the face of violence.
"Whoever imagines violence will make the state and Egyptians kneel must reconsider; we will never be silent in the face of the destruction of the country," he said on Sunday.
But he also sounded a more conciliatory tone, telling Mr Morsi's supporters there was "room for everyone" in Egypt.
The head of Egypt's armed forces urged them to help "rebuild the democratic path" and "integrate in the political process".
Morsi supporters called off rallies they planned to stage in Cairo on Sunday, citing concerns about security.