BEIRUT

Middle East

Attacks in Egypt kill 4, including police, soldier

People walk in front of a wall surrounded by blocks of houses that were built illegally and destroyed by the government, behind the Supreme Constitutional Court in Maadi, south of Cairo, April 25, 2014. After Egyptians vote next month, many will want their new leader - expected to be former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi - to tackle the housing crunch as the population explodes. The Arabic words read: " Maadi Company for construction and reconstruction." Picture taken April 25, 2014. REUTERS/Am

CAIRO: A bomb blast near a Cairo court killed one policeman on Friday, shortly after two suicide bombers struck in Egypt's restive Sinai Peninsula in near-simultaneous attacks that killed three people, including a soldier.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks but Islamic militants have carried out a series of bombings in recent months targeting Egyptian security forces and the military.

Friday's attacks came just weeks ahead of the country's key presidential elections - a vote in which the former military chief, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, is a front-runner. Militants have blamed el-Sissi for orchestrating a deadly crackdown on the country's Islamists.

Egyptian state TV said the mid-morning explosion in Cairo's eastern Heliopolis suburb targeted a traffic police post near the court. The state news agency MENA quoted police spokesman Abdel-Fattah Osman as saying that the blast was caused by a homemade bomb planted near the police post and that an explosives team was inspecting the site for more devices.

Three policemen were also wounded in that bombing, the TV said.

In restive Sinai, two suicide bombers struck shortly after dawn in the town of el-Tor in the southern part of the peninsula.

In the first attack, the bomber targeted an army checkpoint, killing two people, including one soldier, and wounding five, according to a Health Ministry statement.

The second bomber stepped out on a road and blew himself up in front of a bus. One passenger was killed and three were wounded from that explosion.

The bus driver, Saad Sulieman, who was also hurt in the explosion and spoke to reporters from the el-Tor hospital, said he saw the bomber sitting on the side of the road with an ice box before he got up and detonated his explosives.

The bombers' body parts were scattered on both sites of the Sinai attacks and will be analyzed to determine their identities, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

The Cabinet issued a statement saying it mourned the victims and vowing that "these cowardly attacks will only increase the determination of the police and the military ... to continue their honorable battle to defeat the darkness of terrorism, chase the criminal elements away and bring back security and safety to Egypt."

Until Friday, Sinai had seen a few months' lull in attacks, especially in the northern region of the peninsula where the military is waging a major offensive aimed at driving out insurgents who took control of several towns and villages in the area.

The region witnessed a surge in attacks following the military's ouster last July of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. The military removed Morsi after millions of Egyptians rallied against his rule, a year after his election, and demanded he step down.

The interim, military-backed government in turn stepped up its campaign against Morsi's supporters, killing hundreds and arresting thousands.

The government has branded the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, a terrorist organization. The Islamist group denies any links to violence.

A Sinai-based al-Qaida inspired group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or Champions of Jerusalem, has claimed responsibility for several deadly attacks, saying they were in revenge for the killings of protesters who have been staging near-daily demonstrations demanding Morsi's reinstatement.

Among its most high-profile attacks was a failed assassination attempt against Egypt's interior minister in September, using a suicide bomber. Months later, the same group hit security headquarters in Cairo and several cities in the Nile Delta.

In a recent audio message, al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri gave his approval for attacks on police and military in Egypt but urged militants to avoid civilian casualties so as not to draw public anger.

The town of el-Tor has seen past violence. In October, a suicide car bomb attack on the town's security headquarters killed three policemen and wounded 55.

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. However, attacks in the resorts in 2005 and 2006 killed dozens, including tourists.

Meanwhile, a Cairo-based militant group has emerged in recent months and has claimed responsibility for several smaller attacks that targeted mostly traffic police, security guards or security forces.

The group - Ajnad Misr, or "Egypt's Soldiers" - first appeared in January and said it was targeting police involved in curbing protests. Last month, it claimed responsibility for the assassination of a riot police force commander, posting on its Facebook page photos of the slain officer before he was killed.

Egypt's Grand Mufti Shawky Allam condemned Friday's attacks, saying in a statement that "every terrorist is doing an injustice to himself and to others and will not be immune from God's punishment."

___

Associated Press writer Ashraf Sweilam contributed to this report from El-Arish, Egypt.

MAGGIE MICHAEL

Associated Press

 

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Summary

A bomb blast near a Cairo court killed one policeman on Friday, shortly after two suicide bombers struck in Egypt's restive Sinai Peninsula in near-simultaneous attacks that killed three people, including a soldier.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks but Islamic militants have carried out a series of bombings in recent months targeting Egyptian security forces and the military.

In the first attack, the bomber targeted an army checkpoint, killing two people, including one soldier, and wounding five, according to a Health Ministry statement.

The region witnessed a surge in attacks following the military's ouster last July of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

Among its most high-profile attacks was a failed assassination attempt against Egypt's interior minister in September, using a suicide bomber.

In October, a suicide car bomb attack on the town's security headquarters killed three policemen and wounded 55 .

However, attacks in the resorts in 2005 and 2006 killed dozens, including tourists.


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