DELTA CITY - A powerful blast tore through a police headquarters in an Egyptian Nile Delta city yesterday, killing 13 people, wounding more than 100 and leaving victims buried under rubble in the deadliest bombing yet in a months-long wave of violence blamed on Islamic militants.
Investigators were trying to determine whether the blast, soon after midnight in the city of Mansoura, was from a car bomb or from explosives planted around the building. The explosion left a downtown street of the city strewn with piles of debris and charred cars.
Egypt has seen an escalating campaign of spectacular bombings and gun attacks, mainly against security forces, since the military ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July and launched a fierce crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood. Most have been centered in the Sinai Peninsula, where multiple militant groups operate, but the insurgency has been spreading to the heavily populated Delta and the capital, Cairo.
The interim government quickly blamed "dark terrorist forces" for yesterday’s attack. A government spokesman went further and accused Morsi's Brotherhood of orchestrating the bombing and called it a "terrorist organisation."
Authorities appeared to be moving closer to officially declaring the Brotherhood a terrorist group. A court has already banned the group, but a terrorism designation would further escalate the crackdown against what was once the country's strongest political organization, winning elections the past three years and dominating the government during Morsi's one year presidency.
In a statement yesterday, the Brotherhood condemned the bombing as a "direct attack on the unity of the Egyptian people." It accused the government of "exploiting" the violence to target the group and "create further violence, chaos and instability."
Since the coup, carried out after massive nationwide protests demanding Morsi's removal, Egypt's military-backed interim government has sought to portray the Brotherhood as largely responsible for the violence and militant attacks that engulfed the country following the 2011 ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Last week, prosecutors referred Morsi and other top Brotherhood leaders to trial on charges of organising a large terrorist conspiracy, working with Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and other militant groups and orchestrating the Sinai insurgency in revenge for his ouster.
The Brotherhood and its Islamist allies have been holding near daily protests demanding Morsi's reinstatement, which often descend into clashes with security and anti-Brotherhood civilians. The protests have been met by a crushing crackdown that has killed hundreds of protesters and jailed thousands. At the same time, the army and security forces have been waging an offensive in Sinai against militant groups. Officials say more than 180 suspected militants and more than 170 policemen have been killed in violence the past months.