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Out of Egypt: Live ammo, beatings, stripping

By Mohammed Jamjoom and Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, CNN
December 23, 2011 -- Updated 1531 GMT (2331 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A video showed police beating a woman and others trying to help her
  • The violence occurred in Cairo's Tahrir Square Saturday during a stretch of unrest
  • Twitter hashtags emerged -- #Tahrirwoman and #Bluebra
  • A relative says of Suleiman's beating, "I'm glad her father didn't see this day"

Cairo (CNN) -- When Azza Hilal Suleiman saw Egyptian military pummel the veiled woman, she stepped in to help and got kicked and clubbed by security forces, a beating that was captured in a video that went viral around the world and also showed live gunfire and the violent removal of a Muslim woman's clothing.

"A veiled woman was injured and the army stripped her," she told CNN in an exclusive interview from her hospital bed in Cairo, suffering from painful skull fractures and facial cuts.

She couldn't stand to see the repeated blows to the woman, who was dragged, kicked, partially stripped and then stomped. "So I ran and tried to cover her body and pull her out," Suleiman said.

"We tried to cover her and pull her away but they beat us. I didn't feel anything after this."

Suleiman was seen in a red coat in the same video that showed the veiled woman's beating. Security forces rushed toward Suleiman and pushed her to the ground as she ran to the veiled woman's side.

"I was just trying to help her up after they exposed her body," she said.

Suleiman is one of three people in the video interviewed by CNN, with one of them saying he was shot. A CNN crew also witnessed the security force beatings and shootings and saw other women stripped of some of their clothing.

Beaten activist still in lot of pain

The beatings took place last Saturday in Cairo's Tahrir Square, amid a five-day stretch of assaults by police and defiant protests by demonstrators demanding that Egypt's ruling military cede power to a civilian government.

A Health Ministry spokesman said 16 people died, including 14 by gunshots, according to Dr. Hisham Sheeha. The military has denied the use of live ammunition.

Photos of the unidentified veiled woman were plastered on the front pages of global and local newspapers and appeared on Facebook. Twitter hashtags #TahrirWoman and #Bluebra emerged. The images stirred worldwide outrage because of the beating and because she was partially stripped in a Muslim society where women cover themselves for modesty.

The woman has not been identified. An activist and student, she chooses not to talk to reporters at present, two people who know her told CNN.

She had been dressed in a traditional robe and headscarf, but as police clubbed her and dragged her down the street, those articles of clothing were pulled away, exposing her midriff and blue bra. The video showed one of the police officers aiming a foot at her upper abdomen and stamping squarely on it.

The beatings and the use of live ammunition against protesters, particularly women, have outraged Egyptians. More than a thousand people gathered in Tahrir Square for a "Million Woman" march Tuesday.

Women and men holding placards showing pictures of the veiled woman's beating marched through the surrounding streets to denounce the escalating violence by security forces.

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has since expressed "great regret" over the mistreatment of women protesters, but it has not apologized for the assaults, a fact that enrages demonstrators. But SCAF reiterated "its respect and appreciation for Egyptian women and their right in protesting and their active positive participation in the political life."

Age 48, divorced and unemployed, Suleiman is the daughter of a deceased army general. She wanted to speak to CNN despite her agony.

In an earlier visit to the hospital, she indicated how much she was suffering, saying, "My head is going to explode."

Others came to Suleiman's aid, such as businessman Ehab Hanna, who was also beaten up and shot after he tried to help the woman with the veil.

"Azza covered her naked body. Then we tried to pull her up to take her to the field clinic. But I was shocked with a sting in my leg, thought it was a rock. I tried to walk but fell to the ground, so they started beating me and Azza relentlessly," he told CNN.

Hanna said security forces left him alone when they thought he was dead. But when he moved, he was beaten. He said he and other injured people were on the ground for about 30 minutes because ambulances weren't allowed into the area.

"I only found out I was shot in the leg when I arrived to the hospital. They told me the bullet penetrated my knee and ended up in my calf. I saw the Army officer firing his gun, but I thought it was blanks. I did not imagine they would fire live ammo at their people."

Journalist Hassan Shaheen Mahmoud also is in the video. He told CNN that he is filing a complaint against military leaders because they "dragged, stripped and beat" women and journalists. He too said he tried to come to the aid of the veiled woman, who suffered serious cuts and bruises.

"I started to run, but she froze and fell to the ground when another protester bumped into her," Mahmoud said. "I tried to help her get up, but the soldiers were brutal even when I told them I was a journalist. They even continued to beat her after her body was exposed."

"I will not remain quiet," Mahmoud vowed.

One military official showed no sense of remorse.

"What was a woman like her doing in a conflict zone?" asked the military spokesman, Maj. Mohamed Askar. "She must have participated in the attacks on the military and the Cabinet."

Askar questioned why the woman has not come forward to identify herself.

"Our troops do not just attack people for no reason," he said. "If she had nothing to hide then she would have presented herself. Where is she?"

The Egyptian military said it isn't aware of Suleiman's case but will look into it.

"If she comes from a military family then she reserved the right to be transferred to a military hospital even if her father is deceased," said Col. Islam Jaffar of the military's morals department.

As Wafa Ahmed, Suleiman's sister-in-law, listened to her wailing in pain, she thought of Suleiman's father and other family members, who have served Egypt in the military and government. "I'm glad her father didn't see this day," Ahmed said.

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