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Officials: Firebombing that killed 16 at Cairo nightclub not terrorism

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Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

(Read caption) Plainclothes policemen stand guard in front of the restaurant that was attacked in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 4. A Molotov cocktail hurled at the Cairo restaurant killed 16 people and wounded two on Friday, Egyptian security officials said.

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Masked men firebombed a restaurant in Cairo early Friday, causing a fire that killed 16 people and wounded at least five others.

Egyptian authorities are investigating the firebombing as a crime, not as a terrorist attack. Egypt's government has been battling an insurgency of fighters from political Islamic groups since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took power in 2013, but the firebombing resulted from a dispute among workers, rather than terrorist activity, The New York Times reported.

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The attackers were a group of young men in masks who threw Molotov cocktails into the building Friday morning. They had visited the El Sayad nightclub that night and not been allowed to enter, and officials say one may have been a vengeful former employee fired by the restaurant, Reuters reports.

El Sayad was a feature of Cairo's central Agouza district, on the banks of the Nile River. It included a nightclub in the basement that stayed open most nights, the AFP reported.

When the young men visited the club Thursday night, a fight broke out and employees refused to let them enter. The masked men returned the next morning to firebomb the club, National Public Radio (NPR) reported.

"A raging fire broke out and smoke billowed from the club before security forces put out the fire," reports NPR. "Authorities say this was not an act of terrorism. Essentially, it was a late night bar fight gone very very wrong."

Many were trapped inside, as a single, narrow exit made escape from the blaze difficult for all and impossible for some. Firefighters did not even try to rescue those trapped in the basement at first because they did not realize people were trapped, BBC reported.

"There was little chance of escape for those inside," Orla Guerin wrote for the BBC. "The narrow blackened entrance way was the only way out."

Mohammed Ali, a local pharmacist, said the fire erupted after the nightclub had closed when only workers would have been there. Mr. Ali thought at first the fire was a terror attack because of the ongoing tensions between Islamist groups and the government, as well as a Russian passenger plane believed to have been bombed by Islamic State on Oct. 31 in the Egyptian Sinai.

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Mr. Ali said he realized the attack was only a worker's dispute, albeit a deadly one, after he saw two men flee the scene on motorcycles and remembered them from the nightclub dispute the night before.