CAIRO — As the death toll soared past 600 on Thursday, weeping relatives in search of loved ones uncovered the faces of the bloodied dead in a Cairo mosque near the flattened epicenter of Islamist support for ousted President Mohammed Morsi.
Violence also spread, with government buildings set afire near the Pyramids, policemen gunned down and scores of Christian churches attacked.
As turmoil engulfed the country, the Interior Ministry authorized the use of deadly force against protesters targeting police and state institutions after Islamists torched government buildings, churches, police stations and cut main roads in retaliation for the crackdown on their encampments.
The Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, tried to regroup after the encampments were razed Wednesday and many leaders arrested, calling for a mass rally today in a challenge to the government’s declaration of a monthlong nationwide state of emergency and a dawn-to-dusk curfew.
At least 638 people were confirmed killed and nearly 4,000 wounded in violence sparked when riot police backed by armored vehicles and bulldozers smashed the two sit-ins in Cairo where Morsi’s mainly Islamist supporters had been camped out for six weeks calling for his reinstatement. It was the deadliest day by far since the 2011 popular uprising that toppled autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak and plunged the country into more than two years of instability.
The Health Ministry said in a statement that 288 of those killed were in the largest protest camp in Cairo’s Nasr City district, while 90 others were slain in a smaller encampment at al-Nahda Square, near Cairo University.
Others died in clashes that broke out between Morsi’s supporters and security forces elsewhere in the Egyptian capital and other cities.
Mohammed Fathallah, the ministry spokesman, said earlier that the blood-soaked bodies lined up in the El Imam mosque in Nasr City were not included in the official death toll. It was not immediately clear if the new figures included the ones at the mosque.
Inside the building, the names of the dead were scribbled on the white sheets covering the bodies, some of which were charred, and a list with 265 names was plastered on the wall. Heat made the stench from the corpses almost unbearable inside the mosque, where posters of Morsi were piled up on in a corner.
Many people complained that authorities were preventing them from obtaining permits to bury their dead, although the Muslim Brotherhood announced that several funerals were held for identified victims on Thursday. Fathallah denied that permits were being withheld.
Omar Houzien, a volunteer helping families search for their loved ones, said the bodies were carried to the mosque from a medical center at the protest camp in the final hours of Wednesday’s police sweep because of fears they would be burned.
Elsewhere, a mass funeral was held in Cairo for some of the 43 security troops who authorities said were killed in Wednesday’s clashes. Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who is in charge of the police, led the mourners. A police band played solemn music as red fire engines bore the coffins draped in white, red and black Egyptian flags in a funeral procession.
Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood put the casualty toll at a staggering 2,600 killed and some 10,000 injured, but the figures appeared high in light of footage by regional and local TV networks.