CAIRO (Reuters) - Two policemen were killed in the Egyptian city of Alexandria in a bomb attack on Saturday that targeted the local security chief two days before a presidential election.
Five other people were wounded by the bomb, which was left under a car and blew up as police Major General Mostafa al-Nemr drove past, the Interior Ministry said. Nemr was not hurt and said later he would not be deterred from “doing his duty” in safeguarding next week’s vote.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which the state news agency blamed on the banned Muslim Brotherhood organization. Islamic State released a video last month in which it warned Egyptians against voting and urged Islamists to attack security forces and leaders.
The government condemned the attack and suggested it would not affect the election beginning on Monday in which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is set to win a second term.
“These desperate attempts by the forces of terrorism and the states that back it to affect the positive atmosphere the country is witnessing will only increase the Egyptian state’s resolve to complete its political process and economic progress,” Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said.
Photos posted on social media showed a burnt out car and smoke at the site of the blast. Local television stations later showed Nemr unharmed and inspecting the area.
Residents close to the scene in Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city, reported hearing a huge blast when the bomb detonated mid-morning.
“I suddenly heard a very strong explosion and ran towards the street, but I retreated out of fear,” said Mohamed Ismail, a doorman at a building near the explosion.
“I thought the building would collapse and kept checking on its pillars,” he added.
Voters on Monday choose between Sisi and one little-known candidate who supports the former field marshal. All credible opponents dropped out in January, citing intimidation by the authorities after the main challenger was jailed.
Sisi’s critics say he has cracked down harshly on dissent and that tough economic reforms have eroded his popularity. Supporters say such measures are needed to stabilize Egypt, which was rocked by years of unrest after protests toppled veteran leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
As military commander, Sisi led the ousting of Egypt’s only competitively-elected leader, President Mohamed Mursi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was toppled amid demonstrations against his rule in 2013, a year after taking power. Sisi took office with a landslide election victory a year later.
State news agency MENA blamed the Brotherhood, banned in Egypt and designated a terrorist group, for Saturday’s bombing.
“This attempt comes in the context of terrorist Muslim Brotherhood elements trying to disrupt the electoral process and influence citizens into not going to the polls and participating in the presidential election,” the agency said.
Islamic State (IS) and other militant groups have assassinated several officials in recent years.
Islamic State attempted to assassinate Egypt’s defense and interior ministers in December during a trip the pair made to the Sinai Peninsula, where the hardline militant group has been waging an insurgency for almost five years.
Sisi said on Friday the jihadists would soon be defeated in the region.
Reporting by Mohamed Abdellah and Haitham Ahmed; Additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba and Omar Fahmy; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Andrew Bolton and Helen Popper