Car bomb hits Italian consulate in Egypt, killing one

Car bomb hits Italian consulate in Egypt, killing one
A general view shows the destroyed facade of the Italian consulate building following a powerful bomb explosion, killing one person, in the capital, Cairo, on July 11, 2015. The consulate in central Cairo was closed at the time of the explosion around 6:30 am (0430 GMT), which brought down the facade of the building and could be heard across the capital.
PHOTO: AFP

CAIRO - A car bomb ripped through Italy's consulate in Cairo Saturday, killing one person, the first attack on a foreign mission in Egypt since jihadists launched a campaign against security forces two years ago.

The early morning explosion was heard across the capital and tore down the facade of the consular building, which forms part of a large complex that also houses a social club and a school.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack on the consulate located near the prosecutor's office and supreme court in central Cairo.

It comes less than two weeks after suspected militants assassinated the country's top prosecutor in a Cairo car bombing, in an attack that has also gone unclaimed.

Health ministry spokesman Hossam Abdel Ghaffar said Saturday's blast killed a civilian and wounded nine people, including policemen and passers-by.

Officials said the explosion was caused by car bomb, and an AFP reporter on the scene reported that the mangled wreck of a vehicle was strewn on the street outside the consulate.

A wooden police booth outside the consulate was completely destroyed, and about 50 surrounding buildings were damaged.

The Italian consul in Cairo arrived at the scene of the attack and went inside the building to inspect it, refusing to speak to reporters.

Rome swiftly condemned the attack, with Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni saying "Italy will not let itself be intimidated."

He added on Twitter that there were no Italian casualties, and later told reporters there was no doubt the consulate was the target of the attack.

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Choukri denounced the attack in a telephone call with Gentiloni and pledged Cairo would "pursue and intensify its efforts... to fight against terrorism", according to his office.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini condemned the attack and expressed solidarity with Egypt.

"Once again Egypt is under attack, once again Europeans have been hit by terrorists," she said in a statement.

"We stand by the Egyptian authorities in their efforts to fight terrorism and bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice."

Militants have carried out scores of attacks since the army overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, killing hundreds of policemen and soldiers, mostly in the Sinai Peninsula.

Diplomats had told AFP they had been warned by police months ago that embassies could be targeted, but it was not clear whether this was based on specific intelligence.

At least one Western embassy had been relocated over security concerns.

New 'anti-terror' law 

In Sinai, jihadists loyal to the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria launched a wave of attacks on July 1 that killed at least 21 soldiers.

IS, which controls parts of Iraq and Syria, has called on its affiliates elsewhere to attack Western targets.

Last week's attacks had prompted President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to pledge tougher laws with the cabinet set to approve a controversial anti-terrorism law that sparked an uproar among journalists and rights activists.

Sisi, the former army chief who led Morsi's ouster, won elections last year, pledging to wipe out the militants and Morsi's blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.

Sisi had overseen a crackdown that killed at least 1,400 people, mostly Islamist protesters during the dispersal of sometimes violent protests.

Thousands have been jailed, including secular dissidents, and hundreds sentenced to death in mass trials, although most have won retrials.

The crackdown had initially brought international pressure, especially from the European Union, on Sisi which has largely given way to support as he positions himself as a front line opponent of regional jihadists.

Sisi visited Italy among other European countries late last year, meeting his Italian counterpart Matteo Renzi.

The president is widely popular in Egypt, where many have demanded a strong leader who can restore stability after more than four years of turmoil following a 2011 uprising that overthrew veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak.

But rights groups say freedoms have been trampled under Sisi's administration.

The draft anti-terrorism law would ban independent reporting of militant attacks, stipulating a two-year prison sentence for journalists who contradict death tolls in official statements.

The cabinet has said it would reconsider that provision following a media outcry.

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