CAIRO – Egypt’s interior minister narrowly escaped assassination Thursday when a car bomb tore through his convoy, wounding 22 people and leaving a major Cairo boulevard strewn with debris – the first such attack since the military ousted the country’s Islamist president.
The strike raised fears of a militant campaign of revenge for the coup and the likelihood of an even tougher hand by authorities against protesters demanding Mohammed Morsi’s return to office.
The interim president compared the attack to the insurgency waged by Islamic militants in the 1980s and 1990s against the rule of now-ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak, when militants carried out numerous assassination attempts, killing the parliament speaker. Mubarak himself survived an assassination attempt in 1994, when militants attacked his convoy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
That insurgency provided Mubarak with a justification for a nationwide state of emergency, lifted only after he was driven from power by an uprising in 2011.
Since Morsi’s ouster in a July 3 coup, Egypt has been back under emergency law, and police have arrested nearly 2,000 members of his Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist supporters.
In mid-August, authorities forcefully dispersed two pro-Morsi sit-in camps in Cairo after days of warnings, setting off violence that killed hundreds nationwide. The move led to retaliatory strikes on government buildings, police stations and churches around the country.
Islamic hard-liners have since stepped up attacks on security forces in the Sinai Peninsula and in the south, and have increasingly brought attacks to the capital.
Still, Thursday’s bombing against Mohammed Ibrahim, who heads the police force waging the crackdown, was a substantial escalation. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Interim President Adly Mansour’s office vowed it would “not allow the terrorism the Egyptian people crushed in the 1980s and 90s to raise its ugly head again.” Military leader Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the man who ousted Morsi, pledged to continue the fight against terrorism.