Four Irish citizens leave barricaded Cairo mosque

Morsi supporters outside al-Fath mosque, Cairo Morsi supporters flocked to the al-Fath mosque on Friday

Four Irish citizens, who were among hundreds of people besieged in a Cairo mosque surrounded by Egyptian security forces, have now left the mosque.

They were taken by Egyptian security forces to an area away from the mosque.

A spokesperson for the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs said the four siblings are expected to be released later on Saturday.

Their father is Hussein Halawa, the imam of Ireland's largest mosque in Clonskeagh in Dublin.

Sisters Omaima Halawa, 21, Somaia, 27, and Fatima, 23, and their brother Ibrihim, 17, were in the al-Fath Mosque in Cairo's Ramses area along with hundreds of protesters.

All the supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi have now been taken out of the mosque, and many have been arrested, security forces said.

The confrontation at the mosque continued for most of the day - with exchanges of gunfire between security forces and protesters.

Speaking to RTÉ News on Saturday morning, Omaima Halawa said the mosque was surrounded.

She said people inside were told by security forces that anyone who attempted to leave the building would be shot.

The final-year student at Blanchardstown Institute of Technology told the Irish state broadcaster the scene was very frightening.

"We are surrounded in the mosque, inside and outside. There is a little hallway that the police forces have entered, have broken in and surrounded us. A few minutes ago they broke in. They threw tear gas at us."

She added that the Irish Embassy had been in contact by phone.

The Halawa siblings travelled to Egypt at the beginning of the summer for a holiday.

Their mother Amina Mostafa travelled with her children while their father remained in Dublin.

Speaking to RTÉ from their home in Firhouse in Dublin, another sister Nasaybi said it was an extremely difficult situation for the family.

Nusaiba Halawa, told the BBC she was worried for her siblings' safety

"We are really worried. We don't know how to help them," she said.

"All what we can do is try to support them by calling and give them some hope that this will end and they will come home safely."

The Halawa family moved to Ireland about 18 years ago.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said embassy staff had been in contact with the group and were working closely with the authorities in Cairo.

Stand-off

The stand-off began overnight, when the al-Fath mosque - which was being used as a makeshift clinic for the injured and morgue for some of the 80 dead from clashes on Friday - turned instead into what correspondents describe as a fortress.

Muslim Brotherhood members barricaded themselves inside, using anything at their disposal.

It turned into a scene of chaos. Tear gas was fired into the building, and witnesses saw live ammunition fired by both sides.

Egypt is in turmoil after protest camps in Cairo were cleared on Wednesday with the loss of hundreds of lives.

The Brotherhood, which backs deposed President Mohammed Morsi, has called for a week of daily rallies.

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