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A car laden with 20kg of explosives was detonated remotely near the entrance to the military building [Reuters]
|At least four people have been injured in an explosion near the military intelligence building in Sharqiya, in Egypt’s Nile Delta, the third bombing on the mainland in less than a week.Three men left a car laden with 20kg of explosives by the entrance to the building on Sunday morning, and detonated it from a distance with a remote control, according to an Egyptian army spokesperson. The military is conducting a search of the the area for the assailants.
Colonel Ahmed Ali, a spokesman for the army, said the intelligence building was partly damaged by the blast. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Attacks on police and military installations have become a regular occurrence in Egypt.
On Tuesday, a powerful car bomb exploded near a police station in Mansoura, another city in the Delta, killing 14 people and injuring more than 150 others. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a Sinai-based group, claimed responsibility for the bombing in a statement posted online.
But the army-backed interim cabinet nonetheless blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, and the next day designated the Brotherhood as a “terrorist organisation.”
Hundreds of members have been arrested over the past few days for staging protests, and there were reports in local newspapers on Sunday that some of the group’s remaining leadership had fled the country.
On Thursday, a homemade bomb exploded near a bus in Cairo, injuring five passengers. Police said they defused two other bombs planted in the same area. It was one of the first attacks in Cairo that targeted civilians.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has staged hundreds of attacks against police and soldiers on the Sinai peninsula, but it has recently carried out several high-profile bombings on the mainland.
The group claimed credit for a September assassination attempt on the interior minister in Cairo.
|Egypt’s interim government has declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation, a move that gives authorities greater freedom to crack down on the group.Hossam Eissa, a deputy prime minister, announced the decision on Wednesday night after a lengthy cabinet meeting.
“The cabinet has declared the Muslim Brotherhood and its organisation as a terrorist organisation,” he said.
The cabinet’s announcement came one day after a deadly car bombing outside a police headquarters in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura. Fourteen people were killed in the blast, most of them officers, and more than 150 others were wounded.
A Sinai-based militant group, Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, claimed responsibility for the blast in a statement published online on Wednesday.
But the government blamed the Brotherhood for the attack, though it provided no evidence connecting the group to the attack.
The Brotherhood’s London press office issued a statement on Tuesday that “strongly condemned” the bombing.
“Egypt suffered an ugly crime committed by the Muslim Brotherhood,” Eissa said. “It is a clear declaration from [the group], which has not known anything but violence since its beginning.”
The Brotherhood has staged near-daily protests since President Mohamed Morsi was ousted by the army in July following widespread popular protests. Thousands of its members have been killed and jailed since then, and the group has faced mounting legal problems.
In September, a court ordered the Brotherhood banned and its assets seized, a decision that was upheld on appeal in November.
Wednesday’s decision takes the ban a step further: Under the Egyptian penal code, members of the Brotherhood could now face up to five years in prison simply for belonging to the group.
Morsi himself is already in prison, facing charges that include espionage and terrorism. Most of the Brotherhood’s leadership has also been jailed since the coup.
Ahmed el-Borai, the minister of social solidarity, said that the cabinet also would notify other Arab states which are signatories to international conventions against terrorism.
The Brotherhood has sister organisations, and extensive fundraising operations, in many countries around the region.
By Tom Perry
CAIRO (Reuters) – If there was any hope left that the generals who overthrew Egypt’s elected president six months ago might ease the state’s crackdown on dissent, a suicide bomb that ripped through a police station on Tuesday may have destroyed it.
The most populous Arab country enters the new year with deeper divisions in its society and more bloodshed on its streets than at any point in its modern history. The prospects for democracy appear bleaker with every bomb blast and arrest.
The army-backed government says it will shepherd Egypt back to democracy and points out that the state defeated Islamist militants when they last launched waves of attacks in the 1990s. But this time around there are more weapons and harder ideologies, and a bitter example of a failed democratic experiment to toughen positions on all sides.
Like much of the recent violence, the bombing that killed 16 people on Tuesday was bloodier than all but the very worst attacks of the 1990s. The tactic of using suicide bombers to hit security forces is more familiar to Iraq or Syria than to Egypt, which for all its history of militancy is one of the few big Arab states that has never experienced a modern civil war.
The blast was claimed by a Sinai Peninsula-based Islamist militant group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which has stepped up attacks on government targets in recent months and narrowly failed to assassinate the interior minister in September.
The blast set off mob attacks on the shops, homes and vehicles of people believed to be supporters of ousted President Mohamed Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
“After the funerals of the martyrs, angry people smashed my pharmacy and my brother’s shop,” said Mohamed Heikal, a Brotherhood activist in the city of Mansoura, scene of Tuesday’s bombing. “We had nothing to do with what happened,” he said, condemning the bombing as a terrorist attack.
With much of the public feverishly backing the government’s calls to uproot the Brotherhood, talk of political accommodation is non-existent. Analysts see little or no chances of a political deal to stabilize a nation in turmoil since Hosni Mubarak’s downfall in 2011.
Signs of escalation abound. Mursi and other top Brotherhood leaders have been ordered to stand trial on charges that could lead to their execution. They are charged with conspiring with foreigners to carry out a terrorist plot against Egypt.
Following Tuesday’s attack, Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
Meanwhile, the frequency of attacks suggests militants are taking centre stage within the Islamist movement, further diminishing hopes of the state reaching an accommodation with moderates and strengthening the hawks in government.
One consequence could be to increase the chances of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi becoming Egypt’s next president.
The army chief who deposed Mursi after mass protests against Brotherhood rule has yet to decide whether to run, an army source said. Though Sisi would almost certainly win were he to run, the source said he is hesitant partly due to the mountain of problems awaiting Egypt’s next head of state.
But analysts say the increase in violence makes it less likely Sisi and those around him would trust anyone else with the reins of power.
“The more dire the situation becomes, the less a second tier civilian candidate will be seen able to take charge of the situation,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a New York-based think-tank. “This type of deterioration will increase pressure on Sisi to run.”
MOST SOLDIERS KILLED SINCE ’73 WAR
Crowds that gathered outside the compound hit in Tuesday’s attack to show support for the security forces brandished Sisi’s portrait.
Egypt has experienced violence for decades including the assassination of President Anwar Sadat by an Islamist gunman in 1981, and attacks on tourist sites in the 1990s that hurt the economy. But civil bloodshed has now reached an unprecedented level.
A conservative estimate puts the overall death toll since Mursi’s fall at well over 1,500. Most of those killed were Mursi supporters, including hundreds gunned down when the security forces cleared a protest vigil outside a Cairo mosque.
At least 350 members of the security forces have also been killed in bombings and shootings since Mursi’s downfall. The state has declared them martyrs of a war on terror.
The army has suffered its greatest casualties since the 1973 Middle East war, most of them in the Sinai Peninsula, where the most heavily armed Islamists are based.
The blood spilt since Mursi’s downfall has evoked comparisons with Algeria – a country pitched into a decade of civil war in 1991 when its army aborted an experiment with democracy because Islamists looked set to win power.
Some dismiss that comparison, arguing the past failures of militants in Egypt should dissuade Islamists from following that path.
But as the attacks spread beyond the Sinai Peninsula, the risks are compounded by the large quantities of weapons smuggled in from neighboring Libya since the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, in a war that saw his arsenals looted by rebels.
“This particular incident shows that the group operating in Mansoura is very organized, well equipped and capable,” said Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayid, a professor of political science at Cairo University, referring to the Nile Valley town where Tuesday’s attack took place.
“This points to the difficulty of any kind of compromise between the government and Islamist groups.”
FREEDOMS IN DANGER
The Brotherhood, most of whose leadership are in jail, continues to reiterate its mantra of peaceful resistance and denies turning to violence.
It is pressing a campaign of protests on university campuses where its followers routinely clash with the police.
But as that strategy fails to make much of an impact, there is a risk of radical logic winning over its supporters, posing a threat to the Brotherhood itself.
Analysts believe the security establishment now has a firm grip over the course of government, reasserting political influence that diminished after the 2011 uprising. Activists say the freedoms won in that uprising are in danger.
The state has widened a crackdown on dissent, on December 22 jailing three leading secular activists to three years in prison for breaking a law that severely curbs the right to protest – a major blow against those behind the January 25, 2011 revolution.
“What we see now is a security apparatus that really seems to be out of control, going after individuals and groups it has grudges against,” said Nathan Brown, a professor of political science at George Washington University.
“You do sometimes hear murmurs that people in the leadership worry that an overly harsh set of actions will make the political divisions in Egypt worse, and there has to be some kind of lessening of the security crackdown.
“This bombing puts off that date.”
Khaled Dawoud, a liberal politician, said the wave of Islamist attacks will make calls for reconciliation even less popular. He has continued to call for a political accommodation even after being stabbed by Mursi supporters in October.
“In any country where terrorism takes place, public freedoms and hopes for democracy suffer a retreat. That is the law of gravity,” he said.
A powerful explosion believed to be caused by a car bomb ripped through a police headquarters in a Nile Delta city north of Cairo early on Tuesday, killing 12 people and wounding more than 100, leaving scores buried under the rubble.
The country’s interim government accused the Muslim Brotherhood of orchestrating the attack, branding it a “terrorist organization.” But the Islamist group condemned the bombing, describing it in a statement as a “direct attack on the unity of the Egyptian people” and demanding that the perpetrators be found and brought to justice.
It was the first major bombing in the Nile Delta, spreading the carnage that has marked Egypt’s turmoil over the past months to a new area and bringing it closer to Cairo. Previous deadly violence has mostly taken place in the volatile Sinai Peninsula and in Suez Canal-area cities east of the Egyptian capital.
The blast at 1:10 a.m. local time struck at the security headquarters in the city of Mansoura, 110 kilometres north of Cairo in the Nile Delta province of Daqahliya, collapsing an entire section and side wall of the five-floor building, incinerating dozens of cars outside and damaging several nearby buildings.
8 police officers killed
The state news agency MENA said 12 people were killed, including eight police officers, and that 134 were wounded, among them the city’s security chief and his assistant. Most of the victims were policemen, many of whom were buried beneath the debris.
Associated Press video from the scene showed bulldozers clearing the rubble outside the security headquarters, as charred and wrecked cars littered the street.
Egypt’s Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim toured the scene of the explosion at daybreak, pledging that the police will “continue their battle against the dark terrorist forces that tried to tamper with the country’s security,” then went to hospital to visit the wounded.
MENA quoted Cabinet spokesman Sherif Shawki as saying that the Brotherhood showed its “ugly face as a terrorist organization, shedding blood and messing with Egypt’s security.”
Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi described the attack as a “terrorist incident,” expressed condolences to the families of the victims and vowed that the perpetrators “will not escape justice.”
A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said the preliminary investigation indicated a car bomb caused the explosion, which also damaged a nearby bank and a theatre.
Security forces cordoned off the whole area around the bombing site, closed major entrances and exits to Mansoura and set up checkpoints to search for perpetrators. State TV called on residents to rush to hospitals to donate blood.
No one claims responsibility
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, which came a day after an al-Qaeda-inspired group called on police and army personnel to desert or face death at the hands of its fighters.
The militant group based in Sinai and several others have claimed responsibility for a surge of attacks on security forces since a popularly-backed coup in July toppled the country’s former Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood.
In response, Egypt’s armed forces launched an offensive against militants in the northern part of Sinai in August. Coupled with the offensive and with Morsi ousted and imprisoned, Egyptian investigators have moved to put him on trial for links to militants, accusing him and the Brotherhood of being behind the wave of violence in Sinai.
Tuesday’s bombing was not the first time that the security headquarters in Mansoura was targeted. Weeks ago, an explosion went off in front of the building but caused no casualties. Since the summer coup that ousted Morsi, militant Islamists have attacked several security headquarters with car bombs or by suicide bombers.
The Mansoura attack came shortly after the Islamic militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or the Champions of Jerusalem, threatened more attacks on the military and police, saying it considers Egyptian troops to be infidels because they answer to the secular-leaning military-backed government.
The group — which gained notoriety after expanding its operations outside of the restive northern Sinai province — has claimed responsibility for a number of suicide car bombings and deadly attacks, including a failed assassination attempt on Egypt’s Interior Minister in September. The minister escaped unharmed.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis is believed to have ties with Palestinian militants in the neighbouring Gaza Strip, and officials have said other foreign militants have found refuge in Sinai during the ongoing turmoil.
In its message, which appeared on militant websites Monday, the group said it “will be more determined to fight” the military and police if its warning is ignored. It urged them to “repent” from participating in “this infidel bastion that is at war with God and his Prophet, and stop serving in its ranks.”
But MENA quoted Shawki, the Cabinet spokesman as saying that “such terrorist operations will not prevent us from moving forward with the road map.”
He was referring to the upcoming referendum on a draft constitution Jan. 14-15, a key step in a military-backed transition plan aimed at holding presidential and parliamentarian elections later next year.