In a statement posted on his official Facebook page Saturday, military spokesman Ahmed Ali said the blast was “the latest in a series of cowardly terrorist attacks by extremist elements against the people of Egypt and army installations.”
He said that six soldiers were injured and that the force of the blast had caused one of the building’s walls to collapse. Interior Ministry spokesman Hani Abdel Latif said five civilians were also injured.
Egypt has seen a surge in militant attacks against military and police installations since the army deposed then-President Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, in July and cracked down on thousands of his supporters.
The assaults, though still apparently uncoordinated, are increasingly brazen and sophisticated, raising fears of an insurgency that could plunge Egypt into turmoil just 2 ½ years after its pro-democracy uprising.
Saturday’s powerful bomb exploded outside the local military intelligence headquarters and next to a busy square near Ismailia’s downtown, sending black clouds of smoke into the air and burning several other cars nearby.
Amateur video taken in the aftermath of the explosion, and posted on the semiofficial news site Al Ahram, shows a fire raging at the blast site. People could be heard yelling that some were wounded.
Home to roughly 350,000 people, Ismailia is a military garrison town and the birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928.
Groups of armed men have regularly attacked security checkpoints in Ismailia, neighboring Suez and the volatile Sinai Peninsula since Morsi’s ouster. Gunmen have shot and killed at least six soldiers in Ismailia this month.
The military-backed government has blamed the Brotherhood and its Islamist supporters for the violence. But there is no evidence the Brotherhood, crippled by a sweeping security clampdown, is directly involved.
“If you look at the violence in the canal cities, they have historically supported the Brotherhood,” said Barak Barfi, a research fellow at the Washington-based New America Foundation who has studied Egyptian Islamist movements.
“But the Muslim Brotherhood leadership has been rounded up and put in prison, and the Brotherhood renounced violence several decades ago,” Barfi said. “It is very unlikely they would go back on this declaration.”
Instead, analysts say, hard-core jihadists released from prison following the 2011 revolt against former president Hosni Mubarak, along with frustrated and radicalized Brotherhood supporters, are likely carrying out operations against security forces.
The Sinai-based jihadist group Ansar Beit al-Maqdes claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack on the convoy of Egypt’s interior minister in September. The minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, survived the attack.
Ibrahim had led a violent dispersal of two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo on Aug. 14, when hundreds of demonstrators were killed.
“The violent Islamists responsible for these attacks, you cannot pin down who they are,” said Ziad Akl, senior researcher at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “And this means that for the foreseeable future, you likely cannot stop the violence.”
Sharaf Al Hourani contributed to this report.