Egyptian official is bomb target

November 26, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

CAIRO, Egypt -- Islamic militants exploded a powerful car bomb yesterday that narrowly missed Prime Minister Atef Sedki and blasted a nearby school, killing a young girl and injuring at least nine others.

Mr. Sedki, whose armored car escaped the explosion by only seconds, was the third senior Egyptian official targeted in recent months in a wave of fundamentalist attacks.

The incidents have crippled Egypt's tourism industry and left the nation stunned by the pervasive violence and the massive police crackdown that, so far, has failed to halt it.

The Jihad (Holy War) organization, the group that assassinated former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981, claimed responsibility for yesterday's assassination attempt and defiantly challenged the government's claims that it has halted Islamic militant activity in Egypt.

"This operation is a sign of the lie of the regime when it claims to have finished the Jihad group," the organization said in a statement faxed to an international news agency. "With the will of God, Jihad will rain blow upon blow on the regime, continuing on the path of holy war until Egypt is freed from American and Jewish occupation."

The group said it was also avenging the government's crackdown on Jihad and its sister organization, the Gamaa al-Islamiya, whose spiritual leader Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman is now facing charges in New York in connection with the World Trade Center bombing.

The Egyptian government has sentenced 38 Islamic militants to death in the past year, 18 of whom have been executed.

Mr. Sedki, 63, is the nominal head of the Cabinet in Egypt but wields little actual power in the government of President Hosni Mubarak.

Nonetheless, the attack against him demonstrates how far the government is from controlling the Islamic militants, who injured powerful Interior Minister Hassan Alfi in an Aug. 18 bomb blast that killed five and injured about 20 others. Information Minister Safwat Sharif was injured in April when gunmen posing as security guards opened fire on him as he left his home.

In yesterday's attack, a car that had been parked for days near Mr. Sedki's home in the posh Cairo suburb of Heliopolis exploded shortly after noon as the prime minister and his motorcade left on their usual route to his office in downtown Cairo.

Mr. Sedki, who went past the car only seconds before it exploded, probably escaped injury only because his vehicle was armored, witnesses said.

The bomb set at least eight cars on fire and blew the windows out of a nearby school, killing a student and demolishing a nearby wall. Students ran screaming from the building down a stairway covered with blood.

Islamic militants have painted the Egyptian regime as corrupt, unresponsive and a puppet of American and Israeli interests. Their claims initially won some sympathy from an Egyptian public increasingly estranged from political power and angry over a deteriorating economic situation in this poverty-ridden nation of 58 million people.

But the militants lost public support when attacks turned from violence against police, government officials and foreign tourists to include dozens of ordinary Egyptians.

At least 216 people have died in the violence in the past 18 months.

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