This piece, co-authored with Ruth Sherlock, was published in the Telegraph.
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As the bodies were claimed, one-by-one, volunteers used marker pens to scribble names on to the white shrouds that covered their faces.
Many had died from gunshots to the head, neck or chest, suggesting they were victims of the snipers used by Egypt’s security forces during Wednesday’s assault against opposition protesters in Cairo.
In the city’s el-Iman mosque on Thursday, their corpses were wrapped in cloth and placed in long rows; a makeshift morgue for the uncounted, unidentified victims of what the Muslim Brotherhood described as a massacre.
By early afternoon, The Telegraph had counted 237 bodies.
Blood had soaked through almost every one of the shrouds and on to the carpet. Volunteers moved around burning large pots of incense in an effort to cover the smell.
The carpet squelched underfoot, soaked from disinfectant that mourners were pouring over the bodies in a desperate attempt to preserve them. Others had filled coffins full of ice, trying to ward off the intense summer heat. Melting ice and blood soaked the steps outside.
The relations of the dead queued for hours to get inside and identify them.
In the corner of the mosque, volunteers sifted through a foot-high pile of passports, telephones and other personal effects, looking for clues that might help them identify some of the victims.
Families circled the lines of dead, peering closely into each face, trying to identify a missing loved one.
Some had already discovered the awful truth and mourned over bodies, catching a last moment before joining the chaos of the funeral thoroughfare outside.
“This is my wife,” said Saad Muhammed Abdel Gaid, pointing to a shrouded form on the carpet. “I see her with my eyes but my heart feels she cannot be dead. I left the sit-in for one night and when the police moved in, we lost contact. I was not with her when she fell.” He stopped, lost for words.
His story was echoed by many others. “Mohammed called me at 5am to tell me he’d seen a strange deployment by the army,” said Ahmed Abdel Maboud. “When I tried to call him again, the lines were cut. We found him here with a bullet in his head.”
Those that found their loved ones carried their bodies out of the mosque, while a voice announced the victim’s name over a loudspeaker to the crying and wailing crowds.
The deaths had been so sudden that few families had time to procure coffins. Some had quickly hammered together pieces of wood to make a box. Others were forced to use a large sheet, with four men holding each corner, to hoist the body unceremoniously down the steps. Cars, civilian hearses, were parked in a queue that stretched several hundred yards.
Across the city, in a mosque designated for security forces, relations and colleagues prayed over the bodies of policemen who they said had also died in the clashes at Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque the day before.
“Some [pro-Morsi] snipers shot at us. They killed two police officers and a soldier,” said Maj Gen Medhat Menshawi, the commander of the Special Operations Forces who led the attack against the Rabaa sit in.
Maj Gen Menshawi claimed that the ceremony in the mosque was for six members of the security forces. However, other mourners in the crowd were only able to name three policemen, and this newspaper counted only three coffins.
Some Morsi supporters died in the most horrific of ways: in el-Iman mosque, The Telegraph counted nine completely charred corpses. The arms of some of the bodies were stretched out vertically: it seemed they had been trying to escape when they were engulfed by flames. The heat of fire had mummified their bodies.
“Until today, I was not with the army and I was not with Morsi,” said an engineer in el-Iman mosque who refused to give his name. “But now I have seen this crime with my own eyes, and suddenly it is not difficult to choose a side.” Several Morsi supporters said security forces had set fire to tents that had wounded people inside.
In the six weeks leading up to the attack, Rabaa mosque had been transformed into a village. Stalls had been set up selling everything from
T-shirts bearing the image of the toppled leader to the Koran. Entrepreneurs had created restaurants and shops. A large centre stage had been used both for political speeches and for entertainment.
Yesterday all that remained was the debris of the tents crushed by bulldozers. The mosque had been set alight in the attack.
Army officers stood at the front gates, blocking access to the mosque that had been reduced to little more than a charred frame. The surviving walls were black with soot, the carpets and chandeliers inside had all disintegrated in the flames.
“This is the last place where people took refuge,” said one Morsi supporter.
Several people said the security forces had set light to the building before all the dead and wounded were removed.
As the night drew in, tanks rolled into the streets across the capital, sending Cairo into lockdown for the military curfew. Brotherhood leaders, many in hiding, called for more mass protests, urging their supporters not to back down. With neither side willing to do so, the stage is set for further violence.