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Egypt car bomb kills 15 at police HQ Brotherhood declared terrorist

MANSOURA, Egypt, Dec 24, (AFP): A suspected suicide car bombing outside an Egyptian police headquarters killed at least 15 people Tuesday in one of the deadliest attacks since the military overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. The explosion in a city north of Cairo, which militaryinstalled authorities suggested was carried out by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, comes as the country is bitterly polarised over his ouster, with over 1,000 people killed in months of unrest. The Muslim Brotherhood, which publicly renounced violence decades ago, condemned the bombing, and analysts said it was likely the work of more radical Islamists, who have carried out a string of similar attacks in the Sinai targeting security forces. The interior ministry had said at least 12 of the dead were policemen in the attack on police headquarters in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura. A security official later said another police conscript was found dead in the rubble of the blast, and a police officer was discovered dead under the wreckage of the building. Investigators suspect a suicide bomber rammed a car freighted with powerful explosives through barriers surrounding the building shortly after 1:00 am (2300 GMT Monday). The blast also killed a civilian, medics said.

Explosion The explosion peeled off part of the building’s facade and could be felt up to 20 kms (12 miles) away. Casualties were rushed to a nearby hospital, where one witness told AFP the blast had sent him flying through the air. “I heard a massive explosion behind me. I flew through glass and wreckage and then lost consciousness,” he said from his stretcher, his head swathed in bandages. The bombing was the deadliest since Morsi’s overthrow outside of the Sinai Peninsula bordering Israel and Gaza, where militants have killed more than 100 police and soldiers. Hours after the bombing, prime minister Hazem Beblawi labelled the Brotherhood a “terrorist” group but did not blame the organisation for the blast. Thousands later turned out for a funeral for the victims, whose corpses, shrouded in white and Egyptian flags, were carried on fire engines through chanting crowds. “I go to work every day not knowing whether I’ll return,” said Ahmed Fouad, a policeman at the funeral who lost two comrades in the attack. Crowds torched a bus belonging to a tourism company, saying its employees had made pro-Islamist salutes, and then ransacked a supermarket believed to belong to Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers.

Responsible “The Muslim Brotherhood is an international terrorist organisation. They are responsible for what happened in Mansoura,” said teacher Hamada Arafat. “They are now adopting tactics like al-Qaeda.” Interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim said the explosion was meant to intimidate voters ahead of a constitutional referendum next month billed as the first step in the democratic transition after Morsi’s overthrow, to be followed by fresh elections. “This is an attempt to terrorise people because of the referendum. There is a security plan, and this will not affect the referendum,” he told reporters after surveying the damage. It was the second time the building has been targeted this year, after a pipe bomb outside killed a policeman in July. Al-Qaeda-inspired groups on the peninsula have claimed attacks, including a bombing aimed at the interior minister in September outside his Cairo home. Shadi Hamid, research director at the Brookings Doha Center, said “this is a more sophisticated attack than previous ones. It could be a sign of things to come... The insurgency in Sinai is becoming emboldened and extending attacks outside the Sinai.” The interim presidency declared three days of mourning after the explosion, and said the security forces would “avenge our martyrs.” “Our war on terrorism has become the first priority of this period,” the presidency said in a statement. The Brotherhood condemned the bombing “in the strongest possible terms,” while The Anti-Coup Alliance led by the Brotherhood said the “military coup is responsible for the continuation of such sinful bombings.”

The 85-year-old Brotherhood, Egypt’s most well-organised opposition movement during decades of dictatorship, prevailed in polls following the overthrow of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Morsi became Egypt’s first freely elected leader after winning elections last year, but was removed from power after massive protests against his turbulent rule, with millions accusing him of power-grabbing and economic mismanagement. More than 1,000 people have been killed in a subsequent crackdown, including hundreds on August 14 in Cairo, when police stormed two pro-Morsi protest camps. More than 2,000 Islamists have been arrested since Morsi’s overthrow, including virtually the entire top leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. The United Nations on Tuesday demanded the release of three Egyptian activists jailed for three years for organising an unauthorised protest, a spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office said. The convictions on Sunday are “of great concern”, Ravina Shamdasani said, calling for the “immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners detained solely in connection with peaceful protests, unless the authorities have solid evidence (of) recognisable criminal offences.” The convictions of Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel were the first against pro-democracy protesters — as opposed to Islamists — since the July 3 overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi, whose Islamist supporters have borne the brunt of a deadly crackdown. “Participation in peaceful protests and criticising the government should not be grounds for detention or prosecution,” Shamdasani added in a statement. The statement said “dozens of individuals, including students, have been arbitrarily detained and some convicted following what appears to be the exercise of their legitimate rights to peaceful assembly and expression” in Egypt. The verdict was seen as a move by the military-installed government to broaden the crackdown on dissent. Egyptian police arrested on Tuesday Hisham Qandil, who was prime minister under deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, the interior ministry said. The ministry said he was arrested in the desert outside Cairo with a “smuggler attempting to escape to Sudan,” south of Egypt. During his time in office, a court had sentenced Qandil to a year in prison for not carrying out a ruling to re-nationalise a company that had been privatised in 1996. A Cairo appeals court upheld the sentence in September. An unpopular prime minister, Qandil kept a low profile after Morsi’s overthrow by the military in July. He represented an alliance of pro-Morsi Islamist groups in meetings with European mediators who tried to defuse tensions with the military-installed government. The efforts failed in August, with the police launching a massive crackdown that killed more than 1,000 people in street clashes and imprisoned thousands, including top Islamists.

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