Two bombs targeting security posts near Cairo University exploded in quick succession Wednesday killing a police general, followed by a third blast as police and journalists gathered at the scene.
Witnesses said the blasts sent up a cloud of smoke and dust near the campus, the site of repeated clashes in the past few months between police and Islamist student supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
The third bomb struck close to the main gates, where police investigators and journalists had gathered, causing no casualties.
The bombings were the latest in a spate of attacks against the security forces since the army overthrew elected Islamist Morsi last July.
They came less than a week after the army chief who toppled Morsi, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, said he was leaving the military to stand in a presidential election set for May.
A fourth bomb placed in a car parked near the university was defused, security officials said.
The interior ministry identified the slain officer as Brigadier General Tarek al-Mergawi.
An assistant interior minister, Major General Abdel Raouf al-Serafi, and four other policemen were wounded.
“I was waiting for the bus when I heard two explosions. There was dust in the air and policemen were screaming,” said a witness, Sakta Mostafa.
A police general at the scene told AFP the bombs were concealed in a tree between two small police posts.
A Cairo University student said he ran out of the campus after hearing the blasts.
“I found a lifeless man in plain clothes and a policeman bleeding from his leg,” said Amr Adel.
A senior detective, Mergawi would have been in civilian clothes.
Amateur footage posted on an Egyptian newspaper’s website showed policemen running out from a cloud of smoke and dust sent up by the first explosion.
The second bomb went off moments later.
– More patrols on campus –
Interim prime minister Ibrahim Mahlab led Mergawi’s funeral procession, as policemen carried the coffin draped in a red shroud.
Mahlab later chaired a meeting at which it was decided to “strengthen security in areas around universities, and intensify joint military and police patrols throughout the day,” his office said.
The cabinet would also review legislation related to fighting terrorism.
The government says militants have killed almost 500 people, most of them policemen and soldiers, in attacks since Morsi’s overthrow.
Most of the attacks have taken place in the lawless Sinai Peninsula but the jihadists have increasingly targeted police in the capital and in the Nile Delta to its north.
The government has blamed most of the violence on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which it designated a terror group late last year even though the deadliest attacks have all been claimed by a Sinai-based, Al-Qaeda-inspired group, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis (Partisans of Jerusalem).
The Brotherhood condemned the latest bombings, as it has previous attacks on the security forces.
“Such acts will not deter us from continuing our peaceful march to achieve the objectives of our legitimate revolution,” it said.
Even though Morsi and most of its top leadership are in jail and more than 1,400 people have been killed in a bloody crackdown since his ouster, the Brotherhood has vowed to keep up its campaign for the reinstatement of Egypt’s only freely elected president.
A small jihadist group Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt) claimed Wednesday’s bombings as a response to “the increase of arrest campaigns targeting… our women and girls”.
Washington condemned the “terrorist attacks” but urged dialogue between the military-installed interim government and the opposition.
“What we’ve encouraged both the government and the opposition to do is work together, without violence, to forge a path forward for Egypt,” said State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf.
Analyst David Barnett of US-based think tank the Foundation for Defence of Democracies said there was a threat of further violence as the May 26-27 election nears.
“As presidential elections approach, it is more than likely that Egypt will continue to see attacks,” he said.