CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian militant group claimed responsibility for bomb blasts outside the presidential palace in Cairo that killed two senior police officers and wounded 10 other people, taunting authorities that it was able to strike even the most secure locations in a campaign of violence against police and the military.
The attack outside the Ittihadiya palace, where newly elected President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi holds office, raised alarm among officials Tuesday over the security breach. Militants were able to carry out the attack despite multiple closed-circuit security cameras in the area and warnings from the militant group that it planted bombs at the palace.
Even worse, the deaths of the police officers came when they were trying to defuse the explosives, raising questions about the efficiency and preparedness of the force to deal with such a threat.
Egyptian militants have carried out scores of attacks, mainly targeting security forces, in retaliation for the fierce crackdown on Islamists since el-Sissi — then the army chief — ousted President Mohammed Morsi almost exactly one year ago. The government says 250 policemen have been killed since August last year in targeted attacks.
In a strongly worded statement, a coalition led by Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood called for mass street protests on the one-year anniversary of his ouster on Thursday, warning it will be a day of "monumental anger," and urging its supporters to rally in 35 mosques in Cairo ahead of street rallies.
Hundreds of Morsi supporters have been killed and thousands arrested in the crackdown. The government accuses the Brotherhood of orchestrating the militant attacks. The group, which refuses to recognize the new government, denies the charges, and it and its allies accuse the government of staging the attacks to lay the blame on Morsi supporters.
Ajnad Misr, or Soldiers of Egypt, which has claimed previous attacks on police, said it carried out Monday's bombing at the palace in a statement that evening. It said it set a trap for guards at the Ittihadiya palace using new explosive devices that cannot be detected by ordinary equipment.
The group said its experts spent months studying police procedures for handling explosives in order to develop the bombs.
It said targeting the Ittihadiya palace was to "show that the less important government headquarters and personnel are much easier to reach."
On Tuesday, el-Sissi met with his security chiefs to come up with a comprehensive strategy to "meet security challenges," his spokesman Ihab Badawi said. They also discussed upgrading security capabilities, including training in police academies in Egypt and abroad to raise awareness about the dangers of the job and the use of new technology in investigation and evidence collection, Bedawy said.
The most recent attack carried out by Ajnad Misr was in late April, when it killed Brig. Gen. Ahmed Zaki, a commander in the riot police, by detonating a bomb under his car.
In apparent response to the Islamist call for protests Thursday, four members of the Brotherhood-led coalition were arrested. Among them was Nasr Abdel-Salam, the acting head of the Islamist Construction and Development party, the political arm of the Gamaa Islamiyah, a former militant group that waged an anti-government insurgency in 1990s before joining the political arena in 2011. The group's leader is currently on the run and is wanted in Egypt for trial on charges of inciting violence.
Also among those arrested was prominent Islamist politician Magdy Hussein, a Morsi ally.
In a statement Tuesday, the pro-Morsi coalition known as the National Alliance for the Defense of Legitimacy, said the new arrests are an attempt by the government to drag the group toward "direct confrontation."
The group renewed its calls for protests on Thursday calling them "an important and different station."