New evidence emerging from the September 13 aerial attack by Egyptian security forces on Mexican tourists suggests the group of travelers may have possessed the appropriate permit to travel the desert, contradicting official government claims.
The 22-person convoy, which the Egyptian military mistook for terrorists, traveled through the Western Desert until stopping near the Bahariya Oasis, a popular attraction 350 kilometers south of Cairo.
Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Claudia Ruiz Massieu said in a press conference that Egyptian army aircraft began shelling the group around 4 p.m. local time, when the tourists stopped for a break to eat.
“A joint police and army force were chasing terrorist elements in the Western Desert area of Al-Wahat and they engaged by mistake with four 4-wheel drives belonging to Mexican tourists who were present in a restricted area,” the Egyptian Interior Ministry said in a statement.
Rasha Azazi, spokesman for the Egyptian Tourism Ministry, told the Associated Press that the tour company responsible for the convoy “did not have permits and did not inform authorities” about the trip to the area.
However, on September 14, colleagues of the deceased tour guide, Nabil El Tamawi, leaked a copy of a document they claim is the required permit, challenging Azizi’s version.
Here is the circulating permit reportedly acquired by Windows Of Egypt Tours for the Mexican Tourists. pic.twitter.com/UjisoySSdF
— Sarah El Sirgany (@Ssirgany) September 14, 2015
“If authentic, the tour company permit would refute [the Egyptian government’s] claims that the Mexican tourist convoy were traveling without a permit,” Sarah El Sirgany, contributor for CNN and Al-Monitor, said via Twitter on Monday.
El Sirgany later reported on Tuesday that Egyptian government officials confirmed the tour group indeed had filed a permit, but now claim the document was “inaccurate and incomplete.”
The leaked document provides a detailed itinerary of the trip, the names of the guides, and the name of the official authorizing the trip, although it excludes the names of the Mexican travelers.
An Egyptian tour guide who takes foreigners to Bahariya told Guardian reporter Hugh Miles that guides generally need official permission and permits to leave the road. The guide says, however, that in recent months military personnel and guides have coordinated verbally for passage to safe regions such as the White Desert. More dangerous regions like Bahariya, he says, still require a written permit.
As for the Mexican tourist convoy, the tour guide says “it is not possible that they had security personnel but no permission.”
According to the travel firm’s official website, El Tamawi had led groups of Spanish and Latin American tourists interested in meditation and chakras since the 1990s.
Mexican Government Reacts
On September 13, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto condemned the aerial attack and demanded a full investigation of the events from the Egyptian government.
Peña Nieto said the number of Mexican diplomatic personnel in Egypt has been increased to assist those victims who remain hospitalized, according to local outlet La Jornada.
For its part, the Egyptian Interior Ministry said in a statement that it has established a working group to examine “the causes and circumstances of the incident,” and to determine why the tourists were present in the region.
Since the 2013 ousting of Muslim Brotherhood leader and former President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt has seen a rise in terrorist attacks on Egyptian security forces by Islamic State affiliates in the northern Sinai.