CAIRO // An Al Qaeda-inspired group in Egypt claimed responsibility on Saturday for four bombings targeting police in Cairo that killed six people the day before.
Ansar Beit Al Maqdis also called in its statement for Muslims to stay away from police buildings.
A string of bombings rocked Egypt’s capital on Friday, raising tensions ahead of rival rallies planned for today on the third anniversary of the country’s 2011 uprising.
Six people were killed in four attacks, including a car bomb that badly damaged the facade of the city’s main police headquarters and wrecked a nearby museum of Islamic artifacts.
It was the most significant attack yet in Cairo at a time of mounting confrontation between Islamists and the military-backed government. Most of the attacks targeted policemen.
Mohammed Ibrahim, the interior minister, who is in charge of police, called the bombings a “vile terrorist act” aimed at spreading panic ahead of today’s pro-military rallies to mark the revolt that drove the autocrat Hosni Mubarak from power.
Mr Ibrahim implicitly blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, without naming it, saying, “They will reach a point where coexistence will be impossible.”
“But people will only increasingly insist ... and join the masses in millions” on Saturday, he told reporters outside the bombed police headquarters.
The UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, condemned the bombings and said the UAE offered condolences to the victims.
“This act of terror is an attempt to undermine security and stability in the brotherly Arab Republic of Egypt,” he said.
“The terrorist organisation’s continued acts of terror and killing in Egypt require a swift action by all to eliminate these criminal acts which are carried out under the guise of Islam and which are rejected by Islam and Muslims.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the bombings fuelled anger towards the Brotherhood, which the government has said is behind a wave of violence that has escalated since the military removed Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist, as president on July 3.
Soon after the blast at the police headquarters, a crowd gathered outside chanting slogans against the Brotherhood and in support of army chief Gen Abdel Fattah El Sisi, the man who ousted Morsi and who military supporters now want to run for president.
“Execution for Morsi and his leaders,” one man shouted through a megaphone. A woman held up a picture depicting the Brotherhood as sheep, screaming, “Morsi is the butcher and El Sisi will slaughter him.”
Later in the day, anti-Islamist residents joined police in clashes with Brotherhood members holding their daily protests in multiple cities around the country. The clashes left at least three protesters dead.
Elsewhere, there were several pro-military rallies, and TV networks aired phone calls from listeners calling on Gen El Sisi to deal a decisive blow to the Brotherhood.
Militants have increasingly targeted police and the military with bombings and shootings. A day earlier, an Al Qaeda-inspired group that claimed previous attacks released an audio message warning police and soldiers they will be targeted in a wave of violence unless they defect.
But authorities have accused the Brotherhood of being behind the violence, designating it as a terrorist organisation.
The Brotherhood has denied the accusation and yesterday condemned the latest attacks.
The office of interim president Adly Mansour said after yesterday’s attacks that it was determined to “uproot terrorism” and said it could be forced to take “exceptional measures”.
The violence began about 6.30am when a vehicle packed with explosives went off outside the police headquarters in the centre of the Cairo, killing at least four people and sending billows of black smoke into the sky. The health ministry said four policemen were killed and nearly 50 people wounded.
Several police officers sat on the sidewalk weeping outside the building as ambulances rushed in. A blanket covered a corpse on the ground.
The blast dug a deep crater into the pavement, and the street was littered with vehicle parts, shattered glass, bricks and stones. The seven-story facade of the security headquarters was wrecked, with air conditioning units dangling from broken windows. A nearby courthouse and shops were also damaged.
Authorities initially said the attack was a suicide bombing, but later investigations suggested the bombers may have escaped before the blast. Security officials said that three to five people pulled up to the headquarters in two vehicles – a car and a pickup truck loaded with explosives.
The truck’s drivers appeared to have fled in the second car before detonating the truck by remote control.
Abdullah El Sayyed, 26, a salesman who lives behind the headquarters, said he was woken up by the blast, followed by heavy gunfire. He described policemen in panic.
“They were devastated. They were firing their guns in panic as if to call for rescue,” he said. He added that he planned to return to his home village in Fayoum south of Cairo because he no longer felt safe. “It’s not worth it anymore to stay here. Every day I ride the metro and go past here.”
About two hours later, another bomb struck a police car on patrol near a metro station in the Dokki district on the other side of the Nile, killing one person and wounding eight others.
A third, smaller blast targeted the Talbiya police station about four kilometres from the Giza pyramids but caused no casualties.
The fourth blast took place two hours later, killing a person near a cinema in the same neighbourhood.
Ahmed Ghaith, a retired army officer who witnessed the third blast, said he was waiting for a bus when the blast tore down an advertisement placard and dirt spread everywhere.
“No one killed or injured, not even a cat. We know ... they will get nothing at the end,” he said, blaming the Brotherhood.
The violence comes as both the Brotherhood and military supporters are gearing up for rallies today, three years to the day that protesters first took to the streets in the 18-day uprising the brought down Mr Mubarak.
Islamists are trying to use the anniversary to build momentum in their campaign of protests. Military supporters, in turn, aim to show broad popular support for the government and Gen El Sisi.
The most prominent previous attacks were a failed assassination attempt on the interior minister in Cairo in September and the December suicide car bombing that targeted a security headquarters in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, leaving 15 dead.
Ansar Beit Al Maqdis has claimed responsibility for most of the attacks, saying they aimed to avenge the killings of Mr Morsi’s supporters during a crackdown.
* Reporting by Associated Press and Agence France-Presse