Egypt top prosecutor killed in Cairo bomb attack
CAIRO // Egypt’s top prosecutor, who played a key role in the government’s crackdown on extremists, was killed on Monday after a bomb struck his convoy in Cairo.
The killing of Hisham Barakat, 65, suggested that militants were raising the stakes in their fight against the government of president Abdel Fattah El Sisi.
The attack came a day before the second anniversary of the mass protests that prompted the military to oust former president Mohammed Morsi.
The presidency said it was cancelling celebrations to mark the anniversary of the protests and of Morsi’s overthrow on July 3.
In a statement, the presidency also pledged that the “perpetrators of this terrible crime will be punished most severely”.
ISIL’s affiliate in Egypt had called for attacks on the judiciary following the hanging of six alleged militants.
Television footage showed at least four charred cars near the site of the attack. At least nine other people were wounded, according to the health ministry.
Bomb squad chief General Mohamed Gamal said it was either a car bomb or a bomb concealed underneath a vehicle. A prosecutor investigating the attack said that Barakat was in an armoured car but that it was designed to protect him from bullets, not explosions.
Barakat died of organ failure caused by his severe wounds, according to a doctor who treated him.
It was the first attempt on the life of a senior official since a bomb targeted the interior minister months after Morsi was removed in July 2013. Political violence has escalated since then.
Mr El Sisi, the ex-general who led the overthrow, has presided over a crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters that has killed hundreds and placed thousands behind bars.
Barakat factored prominently in efforts to get the Brotherhood organisation declared a terrorist group, its assets frozen and its backers prosecuted in court.
As the crackdown intensified, so too did militant attacks by religious extremists, which spread from the northern Sinai Peninsula to other parts of the country. Authorities accuse the Brotherhood of involvement in the violence.
The group says it is committed to peaceful protest, although its officials have increasingly warned that the crackdown could provoke violence.
The turmoil has hurt efforts to revive Egypt’s economy, which has stagnated as the violence has kept tourists and investors away.
Monday’s attack may be linked to Ansar Beit Al Maqdis, the militant group based in the Sinai that has pledged allegiance to ISIL, said Roshanna Lawrence, regional intelligence manager for the Middle East and North Africa at geopolitical risk consultancy Max Security Solutions. ISIL claimed responsibility for attacks in Tunisia and Kuwait on Friday.
“This could be a good time for them to try to raise their profile and show that they are relevant and have a broad reach,” Ms Lawrence said.
Hours before the Cairo bombing, Ansar Beit Al Maqdis released footage of the assassination of three judges killed last month in the north Sinai city of El Arish after more than 100 Islamists were sentenced to death. The video, posted on Twitter accounts used by militants and titled “the liquidation of judges” showed pictures of jurists who presided over those trials.
It also showed gunmen in a car pulling up to the van transporting the judges and spraying it with rifle fire.
The video also included insults directed at Morsi, who himself was sentenced to death this month on charges of conspiring with a foreign entity to undermine national security. Extremist groups see the Brotherhood as deviating from true Islam.
In recent weeks, militants have attacked two key tourist areas in Egypt, raising fears that they are putting tourism, one of the country’s economic mainstays, in their sights.
Insurgents intent on toppling Hosni Mubarak’s regime in the 1990s used the same strategy.
* Bloomberg and Agence France-Presse
Updated: June 29, 2015 04:00 AM