Dec. 24 (Bloomberg) -- A car bomb blew up outside a security headquarters in Egypt’s Nile Delta, killing at least 14 people and fueling concerns that militant assaults may multiply beyond the restive Sinai Peninsula.
The attack, which Prime Minister Hazem El Beblawi called the “most heinous kind of terrorism,” left at least 100 people wounded in the city of Mansoura northeast of Cairo, the deadliest single strike on security forces outside Sinai since Islamist President Mohamed Mursi was ousted. At least 12 of the dead were security personnel, the Interior Ministry said.
Assaults on Egypt’s security forces have intensified since Mursi’s July 3 removal, centered for the most part in Sinai and surrounding provinces. The Nile Delta bombing suggests that such attacks may “very soon also travel to Upper Egypt down the Nile valley,” said Ziad Akl, a senior researcher at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.
“It could signal the beginning of a process of diffusion all over Egypt,” Akl said by phone.
Egypt’s benchmark EGX 30 Index of stocks fell as much as 1.2 percent today before closing up 0.7 percent.
El Beblawi said his cabinet would discuss the violence tomorrow, while the presidency announced three days of mourning.
Authorities vowed to purge the country of “extremist groups” and accused the attackers of trying to derail a plan to restore democratic rule to the nation, now governed by military-backed officials. Next month, Egypt is scheduled to hold a referendum on a new constitution, meant to pave the way for parliamentary and presidential elections.
A car packed with dozens of kilograms of TNT was parked near the security headquarters, said Mohamed Ibrahim, head of the explosives department at the Interior Ministry in Cairo. Fourteen people were killed, Health Ministry spokesman Mohamed Fathalla said by phone.
Egyptian Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, who toured the site of the blast, said security agencies will continue their “war” on the “forces of black terror,” according to state-run Middle East News Agency. Ibrahim himself escaped an assassination attempt in September in Cairo.
After the blast, El Beblawi labeled the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist organization,” MENA reported, citing his media adviser, Sherif Shawky. There was no government confirmation of that report, which, if true, may signal an impending escalation of the government’s crackdown on the group. Cabinet spokesman Hany Salah, speaking by phone, cited El Beblawi as saying that whoever carried out the bombing was a “terrorist.”
In a brief televised address, El Beblawi noted a ruling banning the activities of the Brotherhood. “The state is implementing this with all firmness but what we saw” spells a “qualitative shift in the size of terrorism,” he said.
Interim authorities may use the attack to begin “a phase of getting rid of the Muslim Brotherhood,” even though no “solid legal evidence” has been presented to incriminate the group in the bombing, Akl said.
The Brotherhood, which demands Mursi’s reinstatement, condemned the bombing in a statement, calling it “a direct attack on the unity of the Egyptian people.” It accused the prime minister of exploiting “the blood of innocent Egyptians through inflammatory statements designed to create further violence.”
Mursi’s overthrow was followed by a government crackdown that has left hundreds of his supporters and dozens of security forces dead, and Islamist leaders in jail. Soldiers and police, meanwhile, have been pursuing militants in Sinai in an offensive they say aims to root out terror cells.
“Such cowardly attacks, carried out by an aberrant group” strengthens the army’s resolve to purge the country of “supporters of extremist groups trying to tamper with Egypt national security,” according to comments posted today on army spokesman Ahmed Mohamed Ali’s Facebook page.
Egypt’s political turmoil has weighed on the economy, with gross domestic product expanding no more than 1 percent in the three months ending September, according to the Middle East News Agency. About $15 billion in aid pledges from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have helped boost the country’s stocks and bonds.
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