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Egypt News Update (24 January 2014)

[Exterior shot of Cairo's Museum of Islamic Art. Image originally posted to Wikimedia Commons.] [Exterior shot of Cairo's Museum of Islamic Art. Image originally posted to Wikimedia Commons.]

[This is a collection of news updates on Egypt compiled from multiple sources by the editors.]

Cairo Hit By Four Bomb Blasts on Friday, Killing Six

Large blast at central Cairo police headquarters on Friday morning is followed by smaller explosions in Dokki, Talbiya and Haram.

Four separate bomb attacks took place in Greater Cairo on Friday morning, killing at least six people and injuring dozens of others, on the eve of the anniversary of the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

The terrorist attack began when a large blast ripped through a police building in central Cairo, killing four and injuring seventy-six others, according to the health ministry.

Hours later in Giza, one person was killed when a primitive bomb exploded after being thrown at a moving police vehicle near a metro station, deputy Giza security chief Mahmoud Farouk told state TV. At least eleven others were reportedly wounded in the attack.

In a third explosion, a small bomb went off later on Friday morning at a police station in Talbiya district, also in Giza, near the pyramids. The attack did not cause any casualties, the interior ministry said.

Later on in the afternoon, Giza’s Haram district witnessed an explosion at Radobis Cinema Theater, leaving at least one dead according to state TV.

"It is a vile, desperate attempt by evil terrorist forces to disrupt the success Egypt and its people have achieved in the [transitional] roadmap and the passing of the new constitution," Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi commented, in reference to the Cairo bomb.

The first explosion, which took place at the Cairo Security Directorate in Bab El-Khalk district, blew out the windows of the building and stripped off parts of its façade.

"I was manning the building along with my fellow conscripts shortly after dawn when the explosion took place," police conscript Ahmed Ibrahim who was injured in the blast told Al-Ahram Arabic from his hospital bed.

"I did not believe I had survived until I was pulled out from under the rubble."

According to a statement by the interior ministry, a car exploded at the cement barriers surrounding the main Egyptian police headquarters in central Cairo. Initial investigations showed a remotely-detonated car bomb was behind the blast, a security official told Ahram.

Three attackers parked the explosive-laden vehicle and fled in another before it was let off, South Cairo senior prosecutor Ismail Hafiz said, denying that a charred body found near the exploded vehicle was that of a bomber.

The attack took place at around 6:30 a.m. local time and was heard across several parts of the capital.

TV footage showed wrecked floors of the multi-story building and a damaged facade of the nearby Museum of Islamic Art. The minister of state for antiquities told journalists in a statement after touring the site that some artifacts and items inside the museum had also been damaged. He said the nineteenth-century museum building, which was recently renovated in a multimillion-dollar project, will need to be "rebuilt."

Photos show that the building's roof has caved in, floors are covered with shattered glass and wood debris, and the display cases housing the museum artifacts have been smashed.

An Ahram Online reporter at the scene of the blast said she saw a badly mangled vehicle stained with blood parked in front of the police compound. Some of the building's walls have collapsed and a gaping crater was left in the ground.

The attack has also caused water pipes in the area to explode, and vacuum excavators were sent to remove the water pooling in the street, the reporter added.

The violence came only one day ahead of the third anniversary of the 2011 uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak, raising the specter of further violence. Police have been set to deploy around the country to secure key security sites.

In a statement, the president pledged to "severely punish" those involved in "planning, financing, inciting, participating in or executing" such attacks, saying that tampering with state security is a "red line."
He added that Egypt had quashed an Islamist insurgency that raged in the 1990s and "would relentlessly rout [terrorism] and root its culprits out. "Such terrorist attacks will only unite the will of Egyptians to move forward towards achieving the goals of the 25 January and the 30 revolution … and to carry out Egyptians' upcoming roadmap." the Egyptian presidency added.

A spate of recent explosions in densely populated areas has raised fears that militant activity in the border Sinai Peninsula, which has spiked since Morsi's removal, would take its toll on other parts of the country.

"They do not want the people to celebrate," Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim told reporters while inspecting the explosion site in Cairo, adding that he was certain that "millions would take to the streets" on Saturday to celebrate the revolution nonetheless. He added that the "despicable attack" would not hamper police "in their fierce war against black terrorism."

After the explosion, large crowds of onlookers gathered at the Cairo site, chanting slogans demanding the "execution" of the Muslim Brotherhood movement and of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

The group's official English language Twitter account has denied responsibility for the Friday attacks, saying that it "strongly condemn(s) cowardly bombings in Cairo, express(es) condolences to families of those killed, demand(s) swift investigations."

The Brotherhood was designated a terrorist organization by the cabinet in December, although it has persistently denied any links with ongoing terrorist attacks.

In December, a bomb attack at a security headquarters in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura killed sixteen people, mostly policemen.

A bomb also exploded outside a Cairo court just before polls were to set to open in last week's constitutional referendum, leaving no casualties.

An Al-Qaeda-inspired group, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, has claimed responsibility for most of the recent attacks in which scores of policemen and soldiers were killed. The group says the violence is in revenge for the killings and arrests of Islamists as part of a broad security crackdown. But there was no immediate claim of responsibility for Friday's attack.

The group also claimed a failed assassination attempt on the interior minister in Cairo in September.

Tensions were simmering in other parts of the country on Friday as violent clashes broke out later in the day between supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, and police and opposing civilians in several governorates. At least one, a school pupil, was killed north of Cairo as pro-Morsi protesters fought with police in Damietta.

Violence also flared during protests in Alexandria, Giza, and Ismailia.

On Thursday, gunmen on motorbikes had killed five policemen at a checkpoint south of Cairo.

[This article originally appeared on Ahram Online.]


Condemnation, Blame after Cairo Bombings

Local and international groups and figures condemned the three bombings that shook Cairo early Friday, claiming the lives of five and leaving dozens injured, as the country commemorates the third anniversary of January 25 uprising.

Armed Forces spokesperson Ahmed Ali said in an official statement that the "mean acts of treachery by extremist terrorist groups have underestimated the value of Egyptian souls, and have taken armed violence as a way to achieve their dirty aims to scare the Egyptian people and prevent them from completing the democratic process."

Ali added that the Armed Forces promises Egyptians that it will root out terrorism in Egypt to achieve stability and security.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, usually blamed by authorities for these attacks, was quick to condemn the bombing and offer condolences to the families of those killed.

"Muslim Brotherhood reaffirms peaceful revolution against fascist military coup is the only path chosen by Egyptians to restore their freedoms. Muslim Brotherhood holds coup authorities responsible for deteriorating security for failure to investigate previous bombings & apprehend perpetrators," the Brotherhood’s official Ikhwanweb site tweeted early Friday.

The spokesperson of the Salafi Nour Party also offered condolences to the "victims of the terrorist attacks. The enemies of the country will not succeed in scaring its people. We shall pass this stage together with the people, army, and police.”
The founder of the Salafi Front, an ultra-conservative Salafi coalition that is part of the National Alliance to Protect Legitimacy and Reject the Coup, held the Ministry of Interior responsible for the bombings in an interview with Sada al-Balad news website on Friday.

"The aim of such bombings is to further smear the National Alliance and to put the responsibility for the attack on the supporters of former President Mohamed Morsi," said founder Khaled Said, adding that the bombings also target the reputation of Islamists in Egyptians’ eyes.

Meanwhile, the liberal Dostour Party heavily condemned the bombings, denouncing violence as a method of supporting any political stance, especially as Egyptians are marking the third anniversary of 25 January revolution.

"The revolution succeeded because it was peaceful. It is important that such attacks will strengthen the will of the Egyptian people to fight terrorism and uniting its efforts to achieve the demands of 25 January revolution," the party said in an official statement on Friday.

The Coptic Orthodox Church also offered condolences to the victims’ families, as spokesperson Bishop Boules Halim said in an official statement: "We know that evil should have an end and we trust that the hands of God can protect the country from such acts, which do not lead to anything but painful memories in the country's mindset."
Halim added that the church is praying to God to protect the country and spread peace among its people.

The Democratic Front of the April 6 Youth Movement said in a statement that citizens are the primary victims in the current power struggles, adding that "Egyptians know very well that neither terrorism nor unjustified violence against citizens is the solution, as it drags the country to an unknown path, where every step is stained with blood."
The front demanded the resignation of Minister of Interior Mohammed Ibrahim for his "failure to secure the country and failing to be up to his promises to gain control over the security situation."
Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi issued a statement condemning the attacks, adding that the league supports Egypt in its war against terrorism and those who stand behind it, the official Middle East News Agency reported Friday.

The diplomat called for a swift investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice, adding that such an attack will not affect the will of the Egyptian people in their quest for democracy.

The American Embassy in Cairo was also very quick to condemn the "heinous terrorist attacks."
"We fully support the Egyptian government's efforts to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice. The Embassy extends its deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims, and we hope for the quick and full recovery of the injured," the statement read. 

[This article originally appeared on Mada Masr.]


Ansar Beit al-Maqdes Calls on Soldiers to Defect

In an audio recording released by the Sinai-based militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdes Thursday, a spokesperson called on Egypt’s security forces to take their government-supplied arms and turn on their superiors, or face the consequences.

“Soldiers, know that you are what gives your leaders strength and a mandate,” said the audio recording.

“Repent and save yourselves. If you can escape with your weapon then do that. Otherwise, you know that soldiers are dealt with as one bloc. We will target you as we target your leaders. And you saw what has been happening in security directorates, buses carrying troops, checkpoints…and what is coming is going to be much worse and bitter.”

A few hours later, a car bomb exploded early Friday morning outside the Cairo Security Directorate, killing four. It was the first car-bomb attack in Cairo since a failed assassination attempt on Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim’s motorcade in early September.

Security forces arrested one ex-naval intelligence officer in connection with that attack. Another message posed by Ansar Beit al-Maqdes claimed the suicide bomber that attacked the motorcade was another former officer, Walid Badr.

Contrary to Egyptian private media reports, the recording was not a claim of responsibility.

David Barnett, a US-based research analyst with eh Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a conservative think-tank that monitors the group, wrote in an email that the recording was “a hundred percent authentic.”

“Recall, that prior to Mansoura attack, ABM had released a statement calling of security personnel to leave their posts or only have themselves to blame,” Barnett wrote.

The person in the recording, Usama Abu al-Masry, has not appeared in previous statements or audio recordings by the group, he added.

“To the soldiers and officers, know that we did not start the fight. Your leaders drove this to you, and you were a willing aid. We didn't start,” Masry says.

[This article originally appeared on Mada Masr.]


Islamic Art Museum Severely Damaged by Blast

Damages to Cairo’s Museum of Islamic Art as a result of Friday morning’s blast will cost several times more to fix than the 107 million Egyptian pounds it took to renovate the historic building, according to Mohamed Ibrahim, minister of state for antiquities.

Ibrahim visited the museum to assess the damage hours after an explosion went off in the early hours of Friday outside the Cairo Security Directorate, which is opposite the museum in Bab al-Khalq, according to state news agency MENA. Four were killed and dozens injured in the blast.

Much of the museum’s decorative interior designs were destroyed and the ceilings have collapsed. The glass on the building’s façade was broken, as were glass display cases housing the artifacts.

Many historic pieces were completely ruined, including the rare minbar of Sayeda Roqaya, which dates back to the Fatimid era (909 to 1171).

The neighboring Dar al-Kutub Museum, which has a massive collection of Arabic, Turkish and Persian manuscripts, was also badly damaged.

A group from Egypt’s Heritage Task Force inspected the site on Friday and said that the building’s hanging ceiling had collapsed as a result of the explosion, its façade “seriously affected” while the glass and ceramic objects have been damaged.

“In Dar al-Kutub, behind the museum, eight manuscripts have been destroyed and several others damaged and are currently being transferred to a safe place,” the task force said. 

After criminal investigations are through, the museum will be emptied of its rare artifacts and archeological collections until a committee is formed to assess the total costs to repair the damages, the minister said. In the meantime, a security cordon will be in place around the museum.

A Mada Masr reporter on the scene said that wooden planks were being installed to board up the entrance and broken windows. However, pedestrians were allowed to roam freely around the site of the blast despite it having been sealed off earlier with police tape. Some were able to walk all the way up to the door of the security directorate.

The minister denied that a water pipe had burst inside the museum. The water came from damages to its central air conditioning system, he said, making it impossible to control the interior temperatures and humidity levels, which is vital to the preservation the rare items on display.

Monica Hanna, an Egyptian archeologist and member of the task force, said on Twitter that many of the manuscripts were damaged and water had reached them due to attempts to extinguish the fire. Eight were completely ruined, she said.

Experts are on the scene investigating the possibilities for immediate restoration of the manuscripts and possibly moving the damaged artifacts to a safe storage site, Hanna said.

She added that some of the wooden artifacts were salvageable.

The historic building had closed its doors in 2003 to undergo complete renovation and restoration, at a total cost of ten million US dollars. It opened its doors to the public in September 2010 and was celebrated as the world’s largest, housing around 2,500 artifacts dating from the seventh to the nineteenth centuries.

The museum dates back to 1870 and was originally located at the Fatimid Mosque of al-Hakim. It was moved to its current location in 1903, according to the website of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Its wide collection, displayed in twenty-five galleries on one floor, includes rare woodwork and plaster artifacts of different periods from around the Islamic world, along with metal, ceramic, glass, crystal objects and textiles.

Rare Quartic manuscripts are on display along with arms and armory, Persian carpets, coins and medals as well as ancient instruments used in the sciences of astronomy, chemistry and architecture.

Among the treasures, according to AFP, are a gold-inlaid key to the Kaaba in Mecca, and the oldest Islamic dinar ever found, dating back to the year 697.

[This article originally appeared on Mada Masr.] 

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