A soldier and a police officer were killed and more than a dozen people were injured as Egypt was rocked by three explosions Friday, raising fear of an increase in violence before the presidential election this month.
Two of the attacks were suicide bombings that took place in the restive Sinai Peninsula, where Egypt’s army has been battling an Islamist insurgency; the third blast was set off in Cairo.
Most of the Sinai fighting has been taking place in the north, but Friday’s attacks occurred in the town of El Tur in southern Sinai, closer to beach resorts that continue to draw foreign visitors and provide Egypt with badly needed tourist revenue.
Militant attacks in Egypt are usually aimed at security installations, and one of Friday’s targets was an army checkpoint. But the other bomber struck a bus carrying civilians.
The checkpoint blast killed one soldier in addition to the bomber and injured five others, security officials said. The second explosion, on a nearby roadway, killed only the bomber, but injured four people aboard the bus. In the capital, Cairo, a crude device planted at a traffic-control post killed a policeman and injured four other people, the Interior Ministry said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for any of the attacks.
The United States this week moved to bolster Egypt in its fight against armed Islamist groups in Sinai, pledging to send 10 Apache attack helicopters whose shipment had been held up when some aid to Egypt was suspended last year. The Obama administration is also seeking to restore hundreds of millions of dollars worth of other aid, but has run into congressional opposition due to a series of repressive measures by Egypt’s military-backed interim government.
Those have included the killing of more than 1,000 followers of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and the jailing of at least 16,000 others, by the government’s own count. Egypt also drew international condemnation after a judge last week handed down mass death sentences to nearly 700 people – a month after having decreed capital punishment for more than 500 others.
Government actions have also targeted freedom of expression and assembly, including the jailing of journalists and passage of a law criminalizing spontaneous street protests. Authorities are also weighing proposed anti-terrorism legislation that rights advocates say could be wielded against virtually anyone who criticizes the government.
The government has blamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood for a wave of attacks in recent months, but another militant group – Ansar Bayt al Maqdis, or Partisans of Jerusalem – has claimed responsibility for the most sophisticated and deadly attacks. The Brotherhood, previously Egypt’s biggest political bloc, publicly renounces violence; the interim government has branded it a terrorist organization.
Security issues are a top concern for many Egyptian voters, a pattern that is likely to benefit former Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Sisi in his run for president. Sisi led the coup that deposed Morsi in July after enormous protests demanding his removal from office, and is heavily favored to win the election, set for May 26-27.