Bomb Aimed at Egypt Premier Kills Schoolgirl
Islamic militants escalated their campaign of terror in Egypt on Thursday, exploding a powerful car bomb that narrowly missed Prime Minister Atef Sedki and blasted a nearby school, killing a young girl and injuring at least nine others.
Sedki, whose armored car escaped the explosion by only seconds, was the third senior Egyptian official targeted in recent months in a wave of fundamentalist attacks. The incidents have crippled Egypt’s tourism industry and left the nation stunned by both the pervasive violence and the massive police crackdown that, so far, has failed to halt it.
The Jihad organization, the group that assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981, claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack and defiantly challenged the government’s claims that it has halted Islamic militant activity in Egypt.
“This operation is a sign of the lie of the regime when it claims to have finished the Jihad group,” the organization said in a statement faxed to an international news agency. “With the will of God, Jihad will rain blow upon blow on the regime, continuing on the path of holy war until Egypt is freed from American and Jewish occupation.”
The group said it was also avenging the government’s crackdown on Jihad and its sister organization, the Gamaa al Islamiya, whose spiritual leader Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman is now facing charges in New York in connection with the bombing of the World Trade Center.
The Egyptian government has sentenced 38 Islamic militants to death in the last year, 18 of whom have been executed.
Sedki, 63, is the nominal head of the Cabinet in Egypt but wields little actual power in the government of President Hosni Mubarak.
Nonetheless, the attack against him demonstrates how far the government is from controlling the Islamic militants, who injured powerful Interior Minister Hassan Alfi in an Aug. 18 bomb blast that killed five people and injured about 20 others. Information Minister Safwat Sharif was slightly injured in April when gunmen posing as security guards opened fire on him as he left his home.
In Thursday’s attack, a car that had been parked for days near Sedki’s home in the posh Cairo suburb of Heliopolis exploded shortly after noon as the prime minister and his motorcade left on their usual route to the office in downtown Cairo.
Sedki, who went past the car only seconds before it exploded, probably escaped injury only because his vehicle was armored, witnesses said. The bomb blew the windows out of a nearby school, killing a teen-age student there and demolishing a wall. Panicked parents rushed to the school to search for their children, who ran screaming from the building down a stairway covered with blood.
“They will not escape from us. They will never escape. These people are wicked, nothing but wicked,” an enraged Sedki told reporters later at his Cabinet office. “The government will continue its efforts to eradicate this phenomenon that is alien to the Egyptian people. Such acts do not show courage as much as they show cowardice.”
Islamic militants have painted the Egyptian regime as corrupt, unresponsive and a puppet of American and Israeli interests; their claims initially won some sympathy from an Egyptian public increasingly estranged from political power and angry over a deteriorating economic situation in this poverty-ridden nation of 58 million people.
But the militants quickly lost public support when attacks turned from violence against police, government officials and foreign tourists to include dozens of ordinary Egyptians, victims of automatic weapons fire and bombs that have exploded all over Cairo and in many areas of southern Egypt.
At least 216 people have died in the violence over the last 18 months, including 74 police officers and 77 militants. Some 620 others have been injured.
Despite thousands of arrests and military trials that have placed most of the Gamaa al Islamiya’s leadership under death sentences, the violence has continued, particularly in southern Egypt, whose poor villages have been fertile nesting grounds for Islamic militancy.
Earlier this week, unidentified gunmen killed four people and wounded three others when they raked a police captain’s car with gunfire in Qena, about 280 miles south of Cairo. The next day, Muslim militants opened fire on a police checkpoint in nearby Assiut province, wounding three police officers and a civilian. Interior Ministry officials said they are interrogating two suspects arrested near the site of Thursday’s blast, but no charges have been filed.
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