CAIRO — Egypt’s interior minister survived an assassination attempt Thursday when his convoy was targeted in a bombing in the capital’s Nasr City district, the scene of a crackdown last month on Islamist supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
The minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, was unhurt in the blast, which damaged his armored vehicle and caused several injuries, according to state news media. There were conflicting accounts of the nature of the bomb and the casualty toll.
Twenty-two people were hospitalized with injuries, the Health Ministry said. The Interior Ministry said 10 police officers and a 7-year-old were among the injured.
Bombings are rare in Egypt, and Thursday’s blast marked one of the most brazen assassination attempts on a high-ranking Egyptian official in decades, underscoring fears that the state’s ongoing crackdown on Islamists could give way to a violent insurgency or even civil war.
No group asserted responsibility for the blast. The Muslim Brotherhood, which supports Morsi and staged protests demanding his reinstatement as president after a July 3 coup, condemned the attack and said the Islamist movement was not to blame.
Adly Mansour, the military-backed interim president, condemned what he called the “terrorist attack,” vowing in a statement that the perpetrators “will not escape the sword of law and the grip of justice.” Egypt’s military chief, Gen. Abdel Fatah al-
Sissi, denounced “the sinful attempt by some terrorist elements to assassinate the minister of interior.”
Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported that a car bomb detonated on the street shortly after Ibrahim, the minister, left his home in an upscale section of Nasr City in eastern Cairo. Other media reports suggested that an explosive device had been hurled from a nearby building. Nasr City is a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold and the site of a pro-Morsi sit-in that was stormed by security forces on Aug. 14, leaving hundreds of protesters dead.
State radio reported that two blasts targeted Ibrahim’s convoy, less than a minute apart, one of them a roadside bomb detonated by remote control. But a witness said there was one explosion, followed by police gunfire aimed at people fleeing the area.
State radio said one of the injured police officers lost a leg. MENA reported initially that seven people were injured. However, a police officer said he saw “dozens” of wounded people.
The Interior Ministry, which controls the nation’s internal security forces, said in a statement that it was investigating the circumstances of the attack.
Ibrahim said that the bombing was “not the end but the beginning” of a new wave of terrorism but that the government would win, the Reuters news agency reported.
It was the first such attack since Egypt’s 2011 uprising, when gunmen reportedly targeted the motorcade of longtime intelligence chief Omar Suleiman shortly after then-President Hosni Mubarak had named him vice president.
Extremist Islamist groups based in Egypt’s Nile Valley launched attacks on government and security officials and infrastructure in the 1990s.
Bombings at beach resorts in the Sinai Peninsula from 2004 to 2006 killed more than 100 people and prompted a sweeping crackdown on the area’s majority Bedouin population. That crackdown has fueled lingering unrest and popular anger toward the state.
A photo of the blast site aired on state television showed a blackened patch of pavement on the street beside a car.
A leader of Tamarod, an activist group that backed the coup against Morsi and helped mobilize hundreds of thousands of Egyptians to join protests in June calling for his ouster, condemned the bombing. But the group also vowed that Egypt would not permit the kind of insurgent violence that has wracked other Arab countries in this volatile region.
“Egypt will not be Iraq or Lebanon,” Mohamed Abdel Aziz said in a post on his Facebook page, referring to two countries where recent political turmoil has escalated into deadly bombings and assassination attempts. “Terrorism will be defeated in Egypt,” he added.
Ahmed Safwat, a 19-year-old dentistry student, said he was standing a few blocks away when the blast occurred around 10:30 a.m. Safwat said police in the convoy immediately responded by opening fire on people fleeing the scene. He said he took cover with a friend behind a kiosk for several minutes before rushing to help the wounded.
“The people lying in the street were yelling in pain,” Safwat said. “Some had police uniforms on. One of the police officers had his leg cut off. There was a child whose leg was also gone.” He said many of the injuries looked “fatal.”
A police officer said the gunfire after the blast lasted for “minutes” so that police could move the interior minister safely from his vehicle to another to transport him from the scene.
“I got here 10 minutes afterward,” said the officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. “There were dozens of injured bodies. People had separated limbs.”
The blast shattered windows of nearby shops and vehicles. Shrapnel from the bomb gashed the facade of a six-story building. Twisted metal, plastic, concrete and broken glass lay strewn across a swath of charred pavement that stretched about 50 yards.
Egypt’s military-installed interim government and security forces have moved swiftly to crack down on Morsi’s supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood in recent weeks, breaking up two pro-Morsi sit-ins in the Aug. 14 raids and jailing hundreds of Brotherhood members and Morsi supporters.
The state has accused the Brotherhood of being a terrorist organization.
The Brotherhood-led Anti-Coup Alliance denounced Thursday’s attack and said the Islamist movement was not responsible.
“The bombing should be condemned irrespective of the perpetrators,” Amr Darrag, a Brotherhood official, said in a statement to Al Jazeera television. “We reaffirm our peaceful approach, which is clear in all our protests.”
The Nour party, an Islamist group formerly allied with the Brotherhood, echoed the condemnations. “We tell those who take the path of assassinations that everyone will be harmed by this path,” said party president Younis Makhyoun, according to MENA. “We fear entering the circle of violence and counterviolence like what happened in past eras.”
Meanwhile, Brotherhood members who remain free or on the run say they have increasingly lost control of the protest movement spawned by Morsi’s ouster. In the restive Sinai, militants have launched daily attacks on police and military targets since the coup.
Political analysts have warned that the fierce crackdown on the Islamist group could spur a wider insurgency from Morsi’s more hard-line supporters. The Muslim Brotherhood formally renounced violence more than 30 years ago.
Under the autocratic rule of Mubarak, who ran Egypt for three decades until he was deposed in February 2011, the Brotherhood was the country’s most influential opposition group. It commanded a vast grass-roots following built from Islamic charities and steady — but heavily repressed — efforts to participate in the country’s corrupt politics. After Mubarak’s fall, the Brotherhood surged ahead of other political groups in the country’s new, free political atmosphere and won successive democratic elections, the first in the country’s history. Morsi, representing the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, was elected president in June 2012.
But many Egyptians turned against the group as the country’s economy and security continued to unravel during Morsi’s year as president, and the solutions that the Brotherhood had promised never materialized.
The coup, which was preceded by mass nationwide rallies calling for Morsi’s ouster, has been widely popular. Brotherhood leaders and political analysts say the crackdown on the group in the weeks since, including the shuttering of Islamist television channels, has been harsher than any effort under Mubarak.