CAIRO — Mexico’s foreign minister arrived in Egypt early Wednesday morning seeking answers in the wake of the deaths of eight Mexican tourists after Egyptian security forces mistakenly attacked a desert safari.
Secretary of Foreign Affairs Claudia Ruiz Massieu was accompanied by several family members of the victims, according to a statement from the Mexican Foreign Ministry.
Massieu visited survivors of the incident who are being treated in hospital and is scheduled to meet Egyptian officials including President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi later Wednesday.
The Mexican foreign minister came to Egypt “to obtain first-hand information that would clarify the circumstances of this deplorable event,” the statement from Mexican authorities said.
After the visit at the Dar al-Fouad where the recovering Mexicans are being treated, Massieu said they are stable and “evolving favourably.” She said she will discuss with el-Sissi the “next step in terms of taking our nationals back home, and taking our nationals who lost their lives back home as well.”
“I want to stress that for Mexico and for all the people of Mexico this has been a terrible incident, this has been an unprecedented incident,” she added.
Egyptian officials initially claimed the convoy of SUVs had wandered into an off-limits area of Egypt’s western desert, where Egyptian forces were involved in pursuing militants, when the incident happened on Sunday.
But in an open letter to the Mexican people on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the facts of the case remain “confusing” and promised a thorough and impartial investigation.
“We still do not know if the convoy was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, or if some error was involved,” Shoukry wrote in a letter to be published in Mexican newspapers Wednesday, according to the Embassy of Egypt in Washington.
“I assure the Mexican people that an impartial inquiry is being held, under the leadership of Egypt’s prime minister himself, and that Egypt is prepared to do its utmost to help in any way it can,” the letter said.
Egyptian forces hunting militants in the country’s western desert mistakenly opened fire on several vehicles used by Mexican tourists, killing 12 people on Sunday. The other dead are believed to be Egyptians.
Shoukry criticized those who were calling the Egyptian forces reckless.
“It would defy reason to think that Egypt’s law enforcement authorities could ever deliberately harm innocent tourists,” he wrote.
The incident, among the deadliest involving tourists in Egypt, comes as the country is trying to revive its vital tourism industry after the turmoil following the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt has mainly been battling insurgents in the northern Sinai Peninsula, on the other side of the country, where Islamic militants stepped up attacks on security forces after the military ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013 amid massive protests against his rule.
But in recent months, militants loyal to the Islamic State group have carried out a series of attacks in more central parts of the country, including the bombing of the Italian Consulate in Cairo and the kidnapping and beheading of a Croatian oil surveyor who was working in the capital.
Egypt’s western desert has long been a popular safari destination, with tourists flocking to its verdant oases, unique rock formations and white sand dunes.
In recent years, however, it has been the subject of security concerns because of the long, porous border with Libya. Egypt has been flooded with weapons, mostly from Libya, since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and plunged that country into turmoil.
Egyptian security forces frequently target smugglers in the western desert, and in July 2014, gunmen armed with rocket-propelled grenades attacked a border guard post, killing 21 troops.