Egypt's interior minister survives attack

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CAIRO -- A powerful bomb blasted through a convoy of cars carrying the interior minister along a residential street Thursday, raising fears of a widely predicted turn toward terrorist violence by opponents of the military ouster of President Mohammed Morsi.

The minister escaped, and so did his would-be assassins. But the explosion killed at least one police officer, injured 10 others and wounded at least 11 civilians, according to an official Interior Ministry statement. Speaking independently, Gen. Osama al-Soghayar, security chief for Cairo, put the number of civilians injured far higher, at more than 60.

A police officer, a 7-year-old child and others lost legs or other limbs in the explosion, ministry officials, medics and witnesses said. Neighbors said they found pieces of flesh scattered in the street as far as 150 feet from the explosion.

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

"What happened today is not the end, but the beginning," Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim told reporters.

Since the July 3 ouster of Mr. Morsi, the nation's first democratically elected president, Islamists have warned that some in their ranks would 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 Gen. 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 the police force. Of these, at least 43 were killed in street fighting at the sit-ins, where at least a few protesters 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 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, across the Nile from Cairo.

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

Ministry officials said they believed that the would-be assassins had planted a large explosive device along the minister's route from his home. Then, around 10 a.m., they remotely detonated the bomb just as his car was passing within feet of the device, officials said. (Later, security officials said they also were considering the possibility that a suicide bomber had set it off.)

The minister himself 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.

Mr. Ibrahim is singularly reviled by Mr. Morsi's Islamist supporters as a kind of triple traitor. He was a senior ministry official under former President Hosni Mubarak, and then accepted a promotion to interior minister under Mr. Morsi, pledging loyalty to Egypt's first elected government.

But during the wave of anti-Brotherhood violence that preceded the military takeover, Mr. Ibrahim refused to protect the group or Mr. Morsi. And now, Mr. Ibrahim has held onto his post as minister under the government that ousted Mr. Morsi. Mr. Ibrahim has overseen the killing of hundreds of Morsi supporters.

On Thursday, Gen. Sissi, who ousted Mr. Morsi, sent the interior minister a telegram blaming "terrorists" for the assassination attempt. The general called the attack "sinful" and "treacherous," the military said in a statement on its website.

Amr Darrag, a senior Brotherhood official, said the group "strongly condemns" the attack. "The bombing should be condemned, irrespective of the perpetrators," he said in a statement relayed over the Al-Jazeera television network.

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