The site of a car bomb explosion outside the police headquarters in Mansoura, Dakahlia, yesterday.
MANSOURA, Egypt: A suspected suicide car bombing outside an Egyptian police headquarters killed at least 15 people yesterday in one of the deadliest attacks since the military overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Mursi.
The explosion in a city north of Cairo, which military-installed authorities suggested was carried out by Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, comes as the country is bitterly polarised over his ouster, with over 1,000 people killed in months of unrest.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which publicly renounced violence decades ago, condemned the bombing, and analysts said it was likely the work of more radical Islamists, who have carried out a string of similar attacks in the Sinai targeting security forces.
The interior ministry had said at least 12 of the dead were policemen in the attack on police headquarters in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura.
A security official later said another police conscript was found dead in the rubble of the blast, and a police officer was discovered dead under the wreckage of the building.
Investigators suspect a suicide bomber rammed a car freighted with powerful explosives through barriers surrounding the building shortly after 1am (2300 GMT Monday).
The blast also killed a civilian, medics said.
The explosion peeled off part of the building’s facade and could be felt up to 20km (12 miles) away.
Casualties were rushed to a nearby hospital, where one witness said the blast had sent him flying through the air.
“I heard a massive explosion behind me. I flew through glass and wreckage and then lost consciousness,” he said from his stretcher, his head swathed in bandages.
The bombing was the deadliest since Mursi’s overthrow outside of the Sinai Peninsula bordering Israel and Gaza, where militants have killed more than 100 police and soldiers.
Hours after the bombing, prime minister Hazem Beblawi labelled the Brotherhood a “terrorist” group but did not blame the organisation for the blast.
Thousands later turned out for a funeral for the victims, whose corpses, shrouded in white and Egyptian flags, were carried on fire engines through chanting crowds.
“I go to work every day not knowing whether I’ll return,” said Ahmed Fouad, a policeman at the funeral who lost two comrades in the attack.
Crowds torched a bus belonging to a tourism company, saying its employees had made pro-Islamist salutes, and then ransacked a supermarket believed to belong to Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers.
“The Muslim Brotherhood is an international terrorist organisation. They are responsible for what happened in Mansoura,” said teacher Hamada Arafat.
“They are now adopting tactics like Al Qaeda.”
Interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim said the explosion was meant to intimidate voters ahead of a constitutional referendum next month billed as the first step in the democratic transition after Mursi’s overthrow, to be followed by fresh elections.
“This is an attempt to terrorise people because of the referendum. There is a security plan, and this will not affect the referendum,” he told reporters after surveying the damage. It was the second time the building has been targeted this year, after a pipe bomb outside killed a policeman in July.
Al Qaeda-inspired groups on the peninsula have claimed attacks, including a bombing aimed at the interior minister in September outside his Cairo home.
Shadi Hamid, research director at the Brookings Doha Center, said “this is a more sophisticated attack than previous ones. It could be a sign of things to come... The insurgency in Sinai is becoming emboldened and extending attacks outside the Sinai.”
The interim presidency declared three days of mourning after the explosion, and said the security forces would “avenge our martyrs.”
“Our war on terrorism has become the first priority of this period,” the presidency said in a statement.
The Brotherhood condemned the bombing “in the strongest possible terms,” while The Anti-Coup Alliance led by the Brotherhood said the “military coup is responsible for the continuation of such sinful bombings.”