Three explosions rocked Cairo Friday morning in the span of four hours, killing at least five people on the eve of the third anniversary of an uprising that was supposed to usher in democratic government, but many Egyptians now believe has sowed instability instead.
The largest of the three explosions was a car bomb, officials said, that detonated in front of the Cairo police directorate, killing four people and injuring 51 others, most of them police officers and security personnel who were sleeping in the large, multi-story building. The attackers struck at 6:40 a.m. when officers were changing shifts, creating a security gap.
In the next three hours, explosives went off near a police station in the Giza section of Cairo. A third explosion, the smallest, detonated near Harem metro station, near the Pyramids, at 10:23 a.m.
While larger attacks have struck police stations around Egypt, Friday’s attacks were the deadliest against security forces in the nation’s capital. Egypt already was on edge as Saturday marks the three-year anniversary of the uprising that led to the fall of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. A polarized nation has emerged since between those who support Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood and those who want a military-governed state to return to power.
Outside the roped off crater in front of the police directorate, thousands of Egyptians staged a makeshift rally for Egyptian Minister of Defense and de facto leader Gen. Abdel Fatah el-Sissi, who ousted Muslim Brotherhood backed president Mohammed Morsi in July.
Many believed the Brotherhood was responsible for the attacks in retribution for Morsi’s ouster and the military–run government that emerged in its place. The latest government has led an intense crackdown against Brotherhood and liberal opponents, locking up leaders, including Morsi. The government has repeatedly asserted the crackdown was necessary to return stability.
“Down, down with the Brotherhood!” one man yelled, hoisted on someone’s shoulders to the cheer of thousands, many carrying posters featuring Sissi.
In a radio message immediately after the attacks, Egypt’s most feared Islamist group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, embraced the attacks, but did not claim them. The statement said the group was angry about the government and claimed that Sissi takes orders from the United States.
“The battle today between Islam and the international non-believers. We are watching every day our brothers being killed. Why? Because they seek to implement God’s shariah,” the radio announcer said in a 21-minute message. “We are calling people to revolt for the sake of God’s sharia.”
While Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, like the Brotherhood, opposed the military's return to power, the groups are not officially affiliated with one another.
But for those near the site, it made no difference. The Brotherhood had contributed to divisive streets, the crowds said, and many said the attack made them more resolute to come out in support of Sissi tomorow.
Still, there were worries that the government also had failed to provide security.
“The Brotherhood did it but the government is sleeping. The security forces should have taken better precautions,” said Emad Ibrahim, a plastics worker who owned a shop on a nearby side streets, as shop owners around him cleaned up debris. Of Saturday's anniversary, he said, “I am expecting chaos.” Police officers near the scene said they knew many of those injured and vowed to defend the nation.
The impact of the blast could been seen from hundreds of yards away, where charred glass covered apartment buildings, shops and a number of government buildings. The exterior of the Museum of Islamic Art, which sits across from the police directorate, was heavily damaged, but museum officials told McClatchy the artifacts inside were not damaged. They would not let reporters in, saying debris was falling inside.
Both the U.S. Embassy here and the Arab League condemned the attacks.