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Top Egypt official survives blast

Officials fear assassination bid signals terror turn

Officials inspected the scene of a blast targeting Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim in Cairo. One officer was killed.

Khaled Elfiqi/European Pressphoto Agency

Officials inspected the scene of a blast targeting Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim in Cairo. One officer was killed.

CAIRO — A powerful bomb blasted through a convoy of cars carrying the interior minister along a residential street Thursday, raising fears of a turn toward terrorist violence by supporters of Egypt’s ousted president, Mohammed Morsi.

Minister Mohammed Ibrahim escaped and so did his would-be assassins. But the explosion killed one police officer, injured 10 others, and wounded at least 11 civilians, according to the Interior Ministry. General Osama al-Soghayar, security chief for Cairo, put the number of civilians injured far higher, at more than 60.

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A police officer, a 7-year-old child, and others lost legs or other limbs in the explosion, witnesses said.

No one claimed responsibility. The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group leading protests against the removal of Morsi, its ally, denounced the attack. But Egyptians reacted with grim anticipation, convinced the assassination attempt marked a return to the kind of violent insurgency that erupted in the 1990s.

“What happened today is not the end but the beginning,” Ibrahim told reporters. It is “a new wave of terrorism,” he said.

Since the July 3 ouster of Morsi, the nation’s first democratically elected president, Islamists have warned that the theft of their electoral victories would lead some to give up on the democratic process and resort to violence, just as some did in the 1990s. And weeks ago, even before there was much evidence of such a turn, the new government installed by General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi began portraying its crackdown on the Brotherhood and other Morsi supporters as a mortal struggle against terrorism.

Since security forces killed more than 600 protesters while breaking up two pro-Morsi sit-ins three weeks ago, Interior Ministry officials have blamed his supporters for killing 117 members of their police force. Of these, at least 43 were killed in street fighting with protesters at the sit-ins, where at least a few had guns. Scores of police officers have been killed by militants in the relatively lawless Sinai, including two dozen killed in one strike last month. And perhaps as many as two dozen others were killed in drive-by shootings or scattered attacks elsewhere. Several were executed in an attack at a police station in Giza.

Thursday’s attack, however, was of a different order, both in the scale and sophistication and also in the willingness to kill and maim civilians.

Ministry officials said they believed that the would-be assassins had planted a large improvised explosive device along the minister’s route from his home in Cairo.

The minister was pulled from his damaged car, specially fortified for his protection, and whisked away in an armored personnel carrier. At least nine cars were badly damaged, some virtually incinerated. A blackened hatchback that bore the brunt of the blast had been peeled open. The explosion tore the facades off the bottom three floors of two apartment buildings. One vendor was hospitalized with shrapnel wounds.

Ahmed Sarhan, 51, a taxi driver, said a policeman had stopped his car at the intersection to let the minister’s convoy go by. A moment later, the explosion lifted one car high in the air, destroyed the vehicle in front of the minister’s, and tore a leg off the nearby policeman.

“There were two women standing by the cab,” Sarhan said. “I am sure they are dead.”

Ibrahim is singularly reviled by Morsi’s Islamist supporters as a kind of triple traitor. He was a senior ministry official under Hosni Mubarak, the former president, and then accepted a promotion to interior minister under Morsi, pledging loyalty to his government.

But during anti-Brotherhood protests that preceded the military takeover, Ibrahim refused to protect the group or Morsi. Now Ibrahim has held onto his post as minister under the government that ousted Morsi, overseeing the killing of hundreds of Morsi supporters.

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