CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) — Top Egyptian security officials defended army and police actions in the clashes Monday in Cairo that led to the deaths of more than 40 people, saying they were defending the Republican Guard headquarters against attackers.
The Health Ministry put the number of fatalities at 42 and said 322 others were wounded when Egyptian security forces clashed with supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood outside the headquarters.
Witnesses said the military and police fired as protesters took a break from holding a vigil at the Republican Guard headquarters to say their dawn prayers. Morsy was reportedly detained in the building after his arrest Wednesday.
But Interior Ministry spokesman Hani Abdel-Latif and army spokesman Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said security forces were under attack. Ali said that around 4 a.m. “an armed group” used bombs, rocks and bullets to attack the area and the people safeguarding the headquarters building.
Speaking to reporters, the officers said it’s the job of the security forces to protect protesters. But, they said, what unfolded was an assault and they had to embark on defending the institution.
Ali sloughed off claims from the pro-Morsy opposition, such as the killing of children, and warned of “lying,” “rumors,” and “psychological warfare.” Video meant to support the security forces’ position was shown at the news conference. They seemed to show a few protesters who may have had firearms, but the context of the images is hard to discern.
Speaking about the presence of children before dawn, Ali asked what kind of people would bring their children to that location at such a time.
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