The Mexican tourists who unwittingly became targets of an Egyptian airstrike in the Western Desert on Sunday were in the middle of a picnic, witnesses revealed Monday.
Their Egyptian tour guide, his four drivers and a police escort pulled over about one mile off a main road to eat after one diabetic passenger asked to eat, The New York Times reports. A military helicopter then opened fire, killing 12 people, including at least two Mexican citizens. A local resident said that some tourists were gunned down as they tried to flee into the sand dunes.
Egypt's foreign ministry claimed that the tourists were mistaken for "terrorist elements."
Whether the site was authorized for tourist activity is still in question. The Egyptian and Mexican governments both released statements that said the Mexican citizens were in an unauthorized area, but a relative of one of the victims told Vice News that the Egyptian government had given permission to stop near the Farafra oasis and that the group was traveling with police protection.
"It's a very safe tour," said Gabriela Bejarano Rangel, the tour guide's sister. "Contrary to what the Mexican authorities said, they were being guarded by the local police, and they did have permission to be in the area where they were attacked." Friends of the guide told The New York Times that he passed through several police checkpoints.
Egyptian tourism officials condemned the tour company for not obtaining a proper permit to visit the area.
The convoy was traveling across a widely trafficked tourist site.
The Egyptian military has been battling a militant insurgency that has caused a rising death toll so far in 2015.