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.