CAIRO: A bomb exploded near a Cairo bus wounding five people on Thursday, as authorities rounded up members of deposed president Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood after declaring it a terrorist group.
The intensified crackdown on the Brotherhood, which prevailed in a series of polls held after the 2011 overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, came after the military-installed government blamed it for a suicide bombing against police that was claimed by a jihadist group.
Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has ridden a wave of popularity since ending Morsi's divisive year-long rule in July, meanwhile vowed to eliminate terrorism as he urged Egyptians to trust the military.
The explosion Thursday shattered the windows of a red and black bus as it passed near a busy intersection in the capital's Nasr City neighbourhood.
Construction worker Mahmud Abd al-Al described scenes of panic after the attack, saying the victims were "covered in blood" and that one man lost a leg.
Police General Mohamed Gamal showed reporters a defused pipe bomb he said had been placed inside a nearby advertising display and primed to explode when police arrived at the scene.
"It was set to go off remotely," interior ministry spokesman Hany Abdel Latif told AFP, saying the bombs were "meant to terrorise people before the referendum."
The interim government has billed the referendum next month on a new constitution as the first step in a democratic transition ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections.
But in the wake of Wednesday's terrorist designation, authorities announced a raft of tough new measures against the Brotherhood, which had long been Egypt's best organised political and social movement.
"Whoever leads this group can be punished with up to a death sentence," Abdel Latif told state television, adding that anyone taking part in Brotherhood protests could be sentenced to five years in prison.
The latest moves cap a dramatic fall for the Brotherhood since Morsi was overthrown on July 3 amid massive protests accusing him of betraying the 2011 "revolution" that toppled Mubarak by allegedly consolidating power in the hands of the Islamist group.
The Brotherhood still organises almost daily protests, despite the fact that more than 1,000 people, mainly Islamists, have been killed in street clashes in recent months and thousands more arrested, including the Brotherhood's top leadership.
On Thursday, Egyptian prosecutors ordered at least 18 Muslim Brotherhood members, including an ex-lawmaker, held on accusations of belonging to a terrorist group, state media reported.
Police also arrested 16 suspected Muslim Brotherhood members for passing out leaflets and "inciting the violence," it said.
Sisi meanwhile vowed to fight terrorism and called on Egyptians to support the security forces.
"Do not allow these terrorist actions to affect you," the army quoted him as saying at a military ceremony.
"If you want freedom and stability, which is not achieved easily, then you have to trust God and your army and your police."
The country's bitter political divisions were laid bare at the scene of Thursday's attacks, where dozens of angry men and women chanted slogans against the Brotherhood as police tried to keep them away so investigators could probe the wreckage.
"The Muslim Brotherhood people are dogs," chanted 40-year-old Fadiya as police pushed her away.
"My country is bleeding. Everybody is scared now in Egypt, even the police are scared," she said as others took pictures of the targeted bus with their mobile phones.
The Brotherhood renounced violence in the 1970s and condemned Tuesday's attack on a police headquarters north of Cairo, which was later claimed by a Sinai-based jihadist group called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis.
The Al-Qaeda inspired group has claimed scores of attacks, as Sinai militants have killed more than 100 police and soldiers since Morsi's ouster.
Authorities say there are links between Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and the Muslim Brotherhood but have offered no proof.
The allegations have nevertheless struck a chord with many Egyptians who grew to fear and despise the Brotherhood during Morsi's troubled reign and who have since called for even tougher measures against the Islamists.
"This is not the city I used to know," taxi driver Ihab Abdelmoneim said after Thursday's bombing.
"Today, I am scared of the passenger who sits in my taxi and he is scared of me."