CAIRO (AP) — Suicide bombings in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula hit a police checkpoint and a passenger bus, and two Cairo bombings including one targeted police in new violence that killed at least five people Friday, a day before the start of campaigning in the country’s presidential election.
In the May 26-27 election, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the now-retired army chief who led last summer’s overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, appears poised to win on a wave of nationalistic fervor. Posters by his supporters around Cairo tout el-Sissi as a strongman in “the fight against terror” – a reference to a wave of Islamic militant attacks that have escalated since Morsi’s ouster.
The violence first flared in Sinai, where several al-Qaida-inspired groups have long operated, but in past months it has moved into Egypt’s heartland in the Nile Delta and into the capital, Cairo – mainly in form of crude but often lethal bombings of positions of police or soldiers.
Militant groups have said the attacks are in retaliation for the ferocious security crackdown since Morsi’s ouster that has killed hundreds of his Islamist supporters and arrested thousands more.
Morsi’s backers have continued in protests against the interim government, often leading to bloodshed. On Friday, clashes erupted between Morsi supporters and locals backing security forces in Cairo and the country’s second largest city, Alexandria, leaving two protesters dead and five wounded, according to security officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to brief journalists. The Interior Ministry said that police arrested 42 people during protests across the country in the course of the day, 27 of them in Alexandria.
In Friday’s attack in Cairo, a homemade bomb exploded at a police post near a courthouse in the eastern district of Heliopolis, killing an officer and wounding three others, state media reported.
Late Friday, a car model Lada Niva without license plate exploded in a busy Cairo district of Ramses near a subway station, according to an Interior Ministry statement. It added that the person killed is the car driver while a second fled. An official said earlier that it is not clear yet whether it was a car bomb or if an attacker hurled an explosive device at a moving car.
The official said security forces cordoned off the area and explosive experts are inspecting the site any more possible bombs. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.
Most of the violence the past months has targeted security forces, including assassinations of senior officers. One of Friday’s two attacks before dawn in Sinai, near the southern town of el-Tor, was a rare instance of a civilian target.
A bomber stepped out on a highway and blew himself up in front of an approaching bus, killing at least one passenger and wounding three others. The bus driver, Saad Sulieman, who was among those hurt, told reporters from the el-Tor hospital that had he had noticed the bomber sitting on the side of the road with an ice box before he got up and detonated his explosives.
The bus was carrying Egyptian workers to Sharm el-Sheikh and other tourist resorts further south in Sinai.
In the other attack in el-Tor, a bomber dressed in traditional Bedouin dress approached an army checkpoint, purporting to ask directions. When a soldier asked him to leave, he blew himself up, according to a statement by military spokesman Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali. One soldier was killed and five wounded he said. The Health Ministry reported a second person killed in the attack as well.
Officials said they would analyze DNA from the bombers’ remains to identify them.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Southern Sinai is famous for its beach resorts, such as Sharm el-Sheikh, and has generally been spared the violence that plagued the northern part of the peninsula, where the military has been waging a heavy offensive against militant groups. However, in February, militants bombed a bus carrying South Korean tourists near the Sinai resort of Taba, killing three Koreans and their Egyptian driver.
El-Tor has seen past violence. In October, a suicide car bomb attack on the town’s security headquarters killed three policemen.
The Cabinet issued a statement saying it mourned the victims and vowing the attack would increase the police and military’s determination “to defeat the darkness of terrorism.”
A Sinai-based, al-Qaida inspired group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or Champions of Jerusalem, has claimed responsibility for some of the deadliest attacks. A Cairo-based militant group called Ajnad Misr or “Egypt’s Soldiers” has claimed responsibility for several smaller bombings against police officers.
The government accused Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood of orchestrating the violence, a claim the group denies, though there have been warnings even by some Islamists that the fierce crackdown on protesters could push young Morsi supporters into acts of violence.
Associated Press writer Laura Dean in Cairo and Ashraf Sweilam in al-Arish, Egypt, contributed to this report.