Turmoil deepens as security forces shoot scores of Muslim Brotherhood supporters at sit-in in east Cairo
Patrick Kingsley and agencies in Cairo
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 27 July 2013 17.29 BST
Link to video: Egypt: '100 Muslim Brotherhood members killed' in Cairo
At least 120 supporters of Egypt's ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, have been shot dead by security officials in what is the worst state-led massacre in the country since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, according to figures released by Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood. Earlier reports on Saturday said the death toll had exceeded 136.
The Egyptian health ministry said that it had counted 38 dead – though its figures are only based on bodies delivered to state institutions.
The massacre took place in the small hours of Saturday morning, at a sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya, east Cairo, where tens of thousands of pro-Morsi supporters have camped since Morsi was deposed on 3 July.
Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad said the shooting started shortly before pre-dawn morning prayers on the fringes of a round-the-clock vigil being staged by backers of Morsi, who was toppled by the army more than three weeks ago.
"They are not shooting to wound, they are shooting to kill," Haddad said, adding that the death toll might be much higher.
Al Jazeera's Egypt television station reported that 120 had been killed and some 4,500 injured in the early morning violence near Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawia mosque.
Reporters at the scene said firing could still be heard hours after the troubles started.
"I have been trying to make the youth withdraw for five hours. I can't. They are saying they have paid with their blood and they do not want to retreat," said Saad el-Hosseini, a senior Brotherhood politician.
"It is a first attempt to clear Rabaa al-Adawia," he said.An injured man is treated at a field hospital. Photograph: Ahmed Khaled/EPA
There was no immediate comment from state authorities on what had happened.
The clashes started after police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of Morsi supporters who tried to extend the sit-in in eastern Cairo.
Al Jazeera showed medics desperately trying to revive casualties arriving at a field hospital set up near the mosque.
El-Haddad said police started firing repeated rounds of tear-gas at protesters on a road close to the mosque sometime after 3am local time (2am BST). Shortly afterwards, live rounds started flying, hitting people at close range.
The deaths come just two weeks after military and police officers massacred 51 Morsi supporters at a nearby protest in east Cairo.
They also happened less than 24 hours after hundreds of thousands of anti-Morsi protesters gathered in Egyptian streets to give General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the army chief who ousted Morsi, their assent to crackdown on what he had on Wednesday called "terrorism".
Sceptics say this is a euphemism for a violent campaign on largely peaceful Morsi supporters, who have held sit-ins and marches across several Egyptian cities since Morsi was overthrown – including at Rabaa al-Adawiya. For weeks, most Egyptian media have depicted pro-Morsi supporters as terrorists.
"It doesn't make sense for a defence minister to ask people to give him authority to fight terrorism," said Abdallah Hatem, a 19-year-old student from Cairo, on Friday.
"So his speech was a pretext for something else – a pretext to fight peaceful protesters who want Morsi to come back."