Nariman El-Mofty / AP

Mexican tourists killed in error by Egyptian forces

The Interior Ministry said 12 Mexicans and Egyptians were killed, 10 others injured in group that lacked permits

At least 12 people were killed and 10 injured in Egypt's southwestern desert Sunday when armed forces mistakenly fired on a group of Mexican tourists, Egyptian officials said.

The Mexican Foreign Ministry confirmed the incident and said at least two of the dead were Mexican nationals. It said in a statement that the victims were still being identified, and Foreign Ministry personnel were working with the families of the victims.

The Egyptian ministry said that police and armed forces were pursuing armed fighters elements in the area and fired on four cars that turned out to be carrying tourists. The ministry said the victims were Mexican and Egyptian.

The ministry did not indicate whether the vehicles were targeted by automatic weapons or aerial bombardment, in Sunday's incident.

“During a joint military police and armed forces operation chasing terrorist elements in Wahat in the Western Desert, four pick-up trucks carrying Mexican tourists were mistakenly dealt with,” the interior ministry said in a statement.

The incident led to the death of 12 and wounding of 10 Mexicans and Egyptians. A hospital spokeswoman said two of the wounded tourists are Mexican-Americans.

It added that the convoy was made up of four four-wheel drive vehicles and that there would be an investigation into how and why the tourists entered the Al Wahat area of the Western Desert. The area, although popular with tourists, is also known as a hideout for armed fighters.

The tour company involved “did not have permits and did not inform authorities,” said Rasha Azazi, a spokesperson for the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism, adding that any trips to the Farafra area are required to be cleared by officials.

“They were not supposed to be there,” she said, but could not provide further information on the circumstances of the attack.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto condemned the attack on his Twitter account, describing it as a tragic incident, and demanded a full investigation. 

“Mexico condemns these deeds against our citizens and has demanded an exhaustive investigation of what has occurred,” he tweeted.

Jorge Alvarez Fuentes, Mexico's ambassador to Egypt, and consular representatives were at the el Hospital Dar-el-Fouad in suburban Cairo and Alvarez had interviewed five survivors, according to the statment from Mexico's Foreign Ministry. It did not provide details of what the survivors said.

Egypt is battling an insurgency that gained pace after the military ousted President Mohammed Morsi in mid-2013 after mass protests against his rule.

The insurgency, mounted by the Egyptian affiliate of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has killed hundreds of soldiers and police and has started to attack Western targets.

Egypt's economy is traditionally driven by tourism but arrivals have fallen sharply as the country tries to recover from years of political and economic chaos.

About 10 million tourists visited in 2014, down from almost 15 million people who visited in 2010.

Earlier on Sunday, ISIL released a statement carried by its supporters on Twitter saying it had repelled an attack by the Egyptian military in the western desert, a recent development for the insurgency that had been largely based in the Sinai Peninsula with occasional attacks taking place in Cairo and other cities.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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