Sept. 5 (Bloomberg) -- A bomb exploded near the convoy carrying Egypt’s Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, in what officials said was a possible suicide attack that comes as the military-backed government pressed a crackdown on Islamists.
Preliminary reports indicated the explosive device was in the trunk of a car, the ministry said in an e-mailed statement, adding that 21 people, including 10 policemen, were injured -- some gravely. The attack may mark a new phase in what the government and media say is a “fight against terror,” and evoked memories of Egypt’s struggle against Islamist insurgents during the 1990s at a time when authorities are also battling militants in Sinai.
The Nasr City district of Cairo where the blast occurred is the same suburb where authorities forcibly broke up a weeks-long sit-in by supporters of ousted President Mohamed Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood last month, triggering a week of bloodshed and violence that left about 1,000 people dead. Ibrahim, who was appointed by Mursi, backed the military’s July 3 ouster of the Islamist, and his forces led the operation against the sit-ins.
“We’ve reached the stage where there no longer is a central authority that controls the Islamist collective action on the streets, specifically the violent one,” Ziad Akl, a senior analyst at the Cairo-based Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said by phone. “It’s no longer the Muslim Brotherhood that represents a threat, it’s actually a number of small unidentified” movements that will pose the greatest risk.
He said the expected response by security forces is “going to be the worst we can imagine.”
The interim administration’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood since Mursi’s ouster has ignited a bloody confrontation with the group, which peaked after security forces broke up the sit-ins.
The violence may further undercut hopes for a revival in the economy, which has foundered since the 2011 ouster of Mursi’s predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. The benchmark EGX 30 stock index reversed gains of as much as 0.5 percent to close down 0.4 percent.
The Brotherhood condemned the attack in a statement and reasserted its commitment to peaceful protest. The Anti-Coup Alliance, which brings together the group and allied Islamists, said in another statement it expected authorities to use the attack as a pretext to extend the state of emergency imposed last month, which includes a curfew that’s since been eased.
Officials have defended the measures as necessary to bolster security as the government pushes ahead with a transitional “road map” that would see the now-suspended constitution amended and elections held by early next year.
The Brotherhood and other Mursi supporters have been holding rallies against what they call a military coup, though the protests have shrunk in scale after the violent crackdown by security forces.
The Interior Ministry described the bombing as the work of “terrorist elements.”
Ibrahim described the attack as “cowardly” in comments aired on state television and later said in a statement that the assassination attempt wouldn’t deter him “from continuing the fight against terrorism.”
Initial indications show that “foreign elements” were involved, he was quoted as saying by the state-run Middle East News Agency. Ibrahim added that he had warned after the break-up of the sit-ins that “terrorist” attacks would take place as the Brotherhood was no longer able to mobilize the kinds of street rallies of tens of thousands it had previously held, the agency said.
The cabinet, in a separate statement, said it would combat terrorism “with an iron first.”
The bombing was an echo of the violence that plagued Egypt in the 1990s, when Mubarak waged a battle against Islamists. Since Mursi’s ouster, attacks on security forces have increased and taken on more virulent forms particularly in the largely lawless Sinai Peninsula where authorities have struck back with air strikes. The latest, though, was the first targeting a senior government official since Mursi’s ouster.
Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, a one-time militant group rooted in the insurgency of the 1990s that has now turned to mainstream politics, condemned the attack and said it had nothing to do with it, in a statement reported by the state-run Ahram Gate.
The scene of the attack compounded already sobering images seen in the weeks of unrest following Mursi’s ouster. The commercial and residential street on which the blast occurred was badly damaged, with the first few floors of the building fronting the blast largely demolished and security forces and emergency personnel combing the area.
“I saw one man whose leg was cut, and part of a brain” lying on the ground, Mahmoud Farag, 23, who was at work at a nearby shop, said in an interview. A Bloomberg reporter at the scene saw bits of flesh on the ground, with a soldier crouching down to pick them up using a newspaper.
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