- Attack is deadliest so far this year in the Cairo area
- Islamic Sttate claims responsibility for attack on Twitter
Gunmen opened fire early Sunday on a minibus filled with plainclothes policemen south of Cairo, killing eight, state-run Middle East News Agency reported, undercutting the government’s efforts to stamp out violence and revive investment.
The attackers stopped the police van in the city of Helwan, then sprayed it with bullets before fleeing the scene, MENA reported, citing a statement from the Interior Ministry. Conflicting claims of responsibility emerged from the Islamic State’s affiliate in Egypt and another little-known group called the Popular Resistance.
The assault was the deadliest in the Cairo area this year against Egyptian security forces, who have been waging a fierce battle against militants, including some affiliated with Islamic State. The violence intensified after the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi almost three years ago and the government’s subsequent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic groups.
Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya television said the Islamic State-linked Sinai province group took credit for Sunday’s attack. In its rival claim posted on Facebook, the Popular Resistance said it acted to avenge hundreds of “martyrs” killed when security personnel broke up a large Islamist encampment shortly after Mursi was toppled.
The government has blamed most of the past three years of violence on the Muslim Brotherhood, which has denied involvement. While the assaults on security forces have largely been concentrated in north Sinai, and claimed by Islamist militants there, some have occurred in Cairo and other parts of Egypt.
The latest eruption of violence comes at a difficult time for Egypt and its president, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. The strengthening of the dollar against the Egyptian pound and a foreign currency crunch have fueled price increases, hampering the ability of some companies to do business.
Grumblings against El-Sisi have been growing over his handling of the economy and security forces’ alleged abuse of authority against both civilians and the media. The president has also come under fire for his decision last month to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia as part of a new maritime border, perceived by critics as trading Egyptian land for Saudi aid.
The president has rejected the criticism, accusing “evil forces” of seeking to undo gains achieved so far.