CAIRO: A series of explosions outside Cairo University killed two people Wednesday, including a police brigadier-general, in what appeared to be a militant attack targeting security forces.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although Islamist militants have carried out many similar operations against police and soldiers since the army ousted President Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The insurgency threatens the security of the most populous Arab nation ahead of a presidential election in May and the Egyptian tourist industry, on which the country relies for revenue.
Two bombs, left among trees outside the university, killed the police officer and wounded five other members of the security forces, who had been guarding the facility. Shortly afterward, a third blast killed another person.
People screamed and ran for safety after the attacks as panic spread on the streets and on campus in an upmarket area near the zoo in Giza, a Reuters witness said. Police defused a fourth bomb that was found in the area.
“We expect trouble for the long term. How can the police protect us when they can’t even protect themselves? It is not possible,” said student Mohammad Abdel Aziz outside Cairo University after the explosions.
Responding to Wednesday’s violence, Egypt’s presidential spokesman Ahmed al-Muslimani said: “Terrorist groups want Egyptian universities to be known for chaos and bloodshed instead of for modernity and civilization.”
Online footage showed members of the security forces clad in black uniforms, moving away from the suspected site of the explosions before advancing back toward it with their weapons drawn.
Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the video, which was released by Al-Youm Al-Sabaa newspaper.
Bombings and shootings targeting the security forces have become commonplace in Egypt since the army deposed Morsi in July, following mass protests against his rule. The government this week put the death toll from such attacks at nearly 500 people, most of them soldiers and police.
Analysts predict that militants will escalate violence before the May 26-27 presidential election that is expected to be easily won by Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the retired general who toppled Morsi.
Widely seen as Egypt’s de facto leader since he deposed Morsi, Sisi is seen by many supporters as Egypt’s savior who can end the political turmoil and bring prosperity to the country.
But he is viewed by the Islamist opposition as the mastermind of a coup that ignited the worst internal strife in Egypt’s modern history.
It will be the second time Egyptians have voted in a presidential election in less than two years.
But in contrast to the 2012 vote won by Morsi, this election follows a fierce government crackdown on dissent that has included both Islamists and secular-minded democracy activists.
Thousands of Brotherhood supporters have been detained and killed in mass protests and clashes with police since Morsi was deposed. Last week more than 500 were sentenced to death in a mass hearing condemned by rights groups and Western governments.
The Brotherhood, Egypt’s best organized political party until last year, has been banned, driven underground and declared a terrorist group by the government.
The movement insists that it is committed to peaceful activism. Senior Brotherhood politician Amr Darrag condemned the violence at Cairo University on his Twitter account, writing that it showed the clear failure of the security forces to protect Egyptians.
Tackling Islamist insurgents based in the Sinai Peninsula will be a far more daunting task for security forces. They have shown their ability to carry out almost daily attacks despite army offensives against strongholds.
The attacks have spread from the largely lawless Sinai to Cairo and other cities, rattling Egyptians who have longed for security since a popular uprising ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
While the militants are not expected to seize power, their campaign could weaken the government by dealing a major blow to the economy. Tourism has been hit particularly hard by the bloodshed.