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Egypt interior minister: Today's bombing is start of insurgency

The Egyptian interior minister survived an assassination attempt today. The Islamist political alliance warned the bombing could be used to justify a heavier hand.

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Riot police guard the site of an explosion near the house of Egypt's interior minister at Cairo's Nasr City district September 5, 2013. Egyptian Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim survived an assassination attempt unhurt on Thursday when a remote-controlled bomb blew up as his convoy drove through Cairo's Nasr City district, security officials said.

Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

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Egypt's interior minister survived a bomb attack on his convoy this morning, and warned afterward that Egypt was witnessing “not the end but the beginning” of an insurgency.

The blast hit a residential area near Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim's home in Cairo's Nasr City neighborhood as his vehicle passed in the late morning. He escaped unharmed, but at least 21 people were wounded. The blast tore the facade off the ground level of a building, left several cars twisted and burned, and shattered glass in buildings on the block. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. 

The bombing raised fears in the capital that it was the beginning of an insurgency waged by militant Islamists in the wake of a bloody government crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters. The military deposed elected President Mohamed Morsi, a former leader of the Brotherhood, on July 3, and last month security forces cleared two protest camps full of his supporters with live ammunition, killing hundreds. The interior ministry controls Egypt's police force. 

In the following weeks, authorities arrested more than 2,000 people, including Muslim Brotherhood leaders, members, and supporters. The government has portrayed the crackdown as a fight against “terrorism.” 

Mr. Ibrahim, in an interview live on state television hours after the attack, called it a “cowardly assassination attempt.”

Muslim Brotherhood leader Amr Darrag, in a statement to Al Jazeera, condemned the bombing and said the group maintains nonviolence. “We reaffirm our peaceful approach, which is clear in all our protests,” he said.

The alliance of mostly Islamist groups, led by the Brotherhood, that opposes the military coup also condemned the bombing.

"The Alliance strongly affirms that it is against any acts of violence, even if they are aimed at those who have committed crimes against the people," the statement said. It added that the group expects the bombing will be used as justification to extend the state of emergency and "expand the use of brutality, repression, and detentions." The government declared a one-month state of emergency, including a night-time curfew, on Aug. 14.

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Radicalization

Some, including Brotherhood leaders, have warned that a violent crackdown on the group could radicalize young Islamists outside of Brotherhood control and encourage them to turn to violence. The day that security forces cleared the protest camps, mobs attacked police stations, churches, Christian owned shops, and government buildings across the country.

The bombing raises the fears that the bombings and insurgent-style attacks on police common in the Sinai peninsula, home to militant Islamist groups, will spread to the rest of Egypt. Armed attacks on security forces outside the Sinai have increased in recent weeks. Police reported a small homemade explosive device was thrown at a police station in Cairo this week, while armed men shot at a police checkpoint in the southern city of Aswan.

For some, it brings flashbacks to the 1990s, when militant Islamist groups fought against the state, attacking police, government officials, tourists, and Christians.

The explosion today was the first major bombing in Cairo since a blast at a tourist site in 2009. There are conflicting reports about what type of device caused the blast and how it was detonated. In television interviews after the attack, Ibrahim said the device was likely detonated remotely. The blast injured many of his guards and destroyed four of their vehicles, he said, adding that a policeman and a child lost their legs in the explosion.

At the site of the blast, twisted pieces of metal and rubber were scattered across a city block lined by rows of almost identical cement apartment buildings. The front end of a white SUV was heavily damaged, while several smaller cars were completely burned.

The device exploded in front of a residential building with shops on the first two floors. The facade of the first floor was destroyed, while the glass windows on the second floor, which housed a clothing shop, were completely blown out, leaving mannequins askew. Below, police picked up twisted remains of car parts and loaded them into the back of a police truck, putting smaller pieces in plastic bags. There was no crater visible in the ground.

Many witnesses said they heard one loud explosion. It was immediately followed by cars on fire, billowing smoke, and panicked people fleeing the site. Some said they heard gunfire after the blast. At a kiosk across the street from the explosion, the glass doors of a refrigerator were shattered.

A worker said the explosion “shook the buildings” and sent debris raining down from the sky, including body parts. “A piece of flesh fell right next to me,” he said, extending his fist to show how big it was. Others described seeing a severed leg.

A caretaker at a nearby building said a child was wounded in the legs, pointing to a spot on the sidewalk stained by blood.

Blame

Some Egyptians were quick to suggest that the Muslim Brotherhood was behind the blast.

“Of course it was the Brotherhood,” says Hassan Mustafa, a resident of the area who watched as dozens of police swarmed the site. “They are the ones who want him dead. The interior minister hit them, so they want to hit him back, to take revenge.”

He says he expects more attacks as Islamists take revenge for those who were killed in the government crackdown. “They want revenge. We will see bombs all over Egypt,” Mr. Mustafa says.

But others were more skeptical. One man near the site said the government had perpetrated the attack in order to demonize the Muslim Brotherhood and justify a crackdown against the group. The man, who asked not to be identified for fear of government repercussions, said it was suspicious that the attack did not kill the minister and resulted in relatively few casualties. "If they wanted to kill him, they would have killed him," he said.

And he said that while he did not believe the Brotherhood or any other Islamists had carried out the attack, they were justified in wanting revenge against the interior minister.

“He killed many of them at Rabaa Al Adaweya,” he said, referring to the protest camp where Human Rights Watch said at least 377 people died when security forces broke it up on Aug. 14.

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