CAIRO — Security forces fired tear gas at a prison truck Sunday in an attempt to free a police officer from rioting detainees, killing at least 36 suspects rounded up during clashes between Islamist supporters of the country’s ousted president and police, officials said.
The deaths of the prisoners, captured during the fierce fighting in recent days around Cairo’s Ramses Square, came as Egypt’s army leader Gen. Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi vowed that the military would not tolerate further violence after four days of nationwide clashes left nearly 900 people dead.
While el-Sissi called for the inclusion of Islamists in the government, security forces detained Muslim Brotherhood members in raids aimed at stopping more planned rallies supporting ousted President Mohammed Morsi — which the military-backed government says fuels the violent unrest.
The killed detainees were part of a prison truck convoy of some 600 people heading to Abu Zaabal prison in northern Egypt, the officials told The Associated Press. Detainees in one of the trucks rioted Sunday night and captured a police officer inside, the officials said.
Security forces fired tear gas into the truck in hopes of freeing the badly beaten officer, the officials said. The officials said those killed suffocated from the gas.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.
However, their version of events contradicted reports carried by state media. Egyptian state television reported that the deaths took place after security forces fought with militants near the prison and detainees came under fire while trying to escape. The official MENA state news agency also said the trucks came under attack from gunmen.
State media said all those killed and the gunmen belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization that Morsi hails from.
The officials who spoke to AP said some of the detainees belonged to the Brotherhood, while others didn’t.
The differences in the accounts could not be immediately reconciled Sunday night.
Saturday, clashes between Morsi supporters and police killed 79 people, according to a government tally released Sunday. That raised the death toll for four days of unrest across the country to nearly 900.
El-Sissi, speaking earlier Sunday at a gathering of top military commanders and police chiefs, again said the army has no intention of seizing power. El-Sissi removed Morsi in the July 3 coup after four days of mass rallies by millions of Egyptians who demanded the president step down.
“We will not stand by silently watching the destruction of the country and the people or the torching the nation and terrorizing the citizens,” el-Sissi said in a speech aired on state television.
El-Sissi also said Islamists must be included in the country’s politics moving forward. A military timetable calls for the nation’s constitution to be amended and for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held in 2014.
The Brotherhood has shown no signs of backing down.
Under the banner of an anti-coup alliance, the group held protests Sunday, though a planned demonstration in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court in southern Cairo appeared to fizzle out.
In an attempt to cripple the Brotherhood’s protest plans, authorities carried out early morning raids, detaining at least 300 mid-level officials and field operatives in several cities, according to security officials and the group.