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The Latest Cairo Bombings Are Part of a Militant Jihadists' Campaign to Assassinate Police

The attacks have killed 496 people in the last nine months, including 252 police, 187 military personnel, and 57 civilians, officials said.

by Tom Dale
Apr 2 2014, 9:05pm

Photo by Reuters

An Egyptian brigadier general became the latest casualty in an ongoing militant jihadist campaign to assassinate police officers after three bombs exploded outside Cairo University's campus on Wednesday.

Brigadier General Tarek al-Mergawi, chief of the West Giza police investigations, was giving orders to his colleagues just outside the school when the first bomb exploded, according to survivors of the blast.

Al-Mergawi was standing at a location where police were gathering in anticipation of student demonstrations. Two bombs left under a tree near al-Mergawi exploded, killing him and injuring several others, including other senior officers. A third bomb, hidden in the branches of another tree nearby, exploded but no one was injured.

Graphic: Egyptian State TV reported that a police Brigadier General was killed in a twin explosion at Cairo University on April 2.

Since the July 2013 ouster of President Mohammad Morsi, militants — often acting under the banner of jihadist Islamism — have carried out hundreds of individual attacks, mostly targeting military and security personnel.

The attack which killed al-Mergawi Wednesday morning has been claimed by a jihadist group named Ajnad Misr (Egypt Soldiers), whose previous attacks have all taken place in the Greater Cairo area.

Graphic: Egyptian State TV reported that a police brigadier general was killed in twin explosions at Cairo University on April 2.

Many of the more ambitious operations have eventually been claimed by a group called Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (Partisans of Jerusalem), but David Barnett, a research associate at the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, who studies Salafi jihadists in Egypt, says that the vast majority have gone unclaimed.

Some of these unclaimed attacks were perpetrated by named organizations such as called Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis he believes, but others may have been the work of informal cells, acting alone.

"Just like you have freelance journalists, you could have a freelance jihadist," Barnett told VICE News.

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The attacks have killed 496 people in the last nine months, including 252 police, 187 military personnel, and 57 civilians, according to a Foreign Ministry statement cited by the state-owned newspaper Al Ahram.

This is at least the sixth assassination of a senior officer in that time, according to Barnett.

A state security officer charged with monitoring Islamist groups was shot dead while on the way to his office in November. Another top interior ministry official was also shot dead in his car in January, outside his home in broad daylight .

The killing of al-Mergawi shows that Egypt's security apparatus, feared by opposition activists and journalists, has yet to get a grip on the militants who have made that very security apparatus their main target.

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Immediately after Morsi was overthrown in July, militant attacks began in the north of the Sinai peninsular, an area bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip which has long suffered, residents say, from economic neglect and police persecution.

But gradually mainland Egypt has come to bear the brunt of the attacks, as militants shifted their focus from the deserts and small towns of North Sinai to Cairo and the cities of the Delta.

In August, 53 attacks took place in Sinai, but just 16 in February and 14 in March, according to figures collected by Barnett.

He estimates, meanwhile, that there were two to three dozen gun attacks in mainland Egypt in February alone — most killing fewer than a handful of policemen.

A car bombing at a security building in the governorate capital of Mansoura on December 24 killed 16 police officers, while the high profile car bombing of the Cairo Security Directorate on January 24 killed four.

After the third explosion on Wednesday morning, a woman identifying herself only as Om Mohammed told a crowd of reporters that she had earlier seen two explosions in quick succession.

"All the people here are our sons," she screamed, crying, referring to the police officers present. "Whoever did this, they were not Egyptians."

Many Egyptians believe such attacks to be the work of foreign powers, or of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Shortly after the bombing, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb convened an urgent meeting of the security committee, involving the Defense, Interior, and Justice ministers, and intelligence chiefs.

An army raid on an alleged bomb factory on March 19 led to a gun battle which left two army personnel and six militants dead. But it was one of few such raids, in the context of repeated militant attacks.

Observers are skeptical that the simmering violence can be contained purely through raids and arrests, arguing instead that greater political inclusiveness — and in the case of northern Sinai, economic development — are necessary to bring an end to the low-level insurgency.