By Michael Georgy
A bomb exploded in front of the Italian consulate in Cairo on Saturday, killing one person, the health ministry and security officials said, raising the possibility that Islamist militants could open a new front against foreigners.
A security official told Reuters the blast was caused by a car bomb. State news agency MENA cited a senior security source as saying preliminary investigations indicated that a bomb was placed under a car near the consulate and remotely detonated.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the early morning blast, which Reuters witnesses said caused heavy damage to the consulate. It shook other buildings downtown and could be heard in several surrounding neighbourhoods.
The identity of the person killed was not immediately clear. A health ministry spokesman said four civilians were wounded. MENA separately said two policemen were among the wounded.
Italy’s Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said there were no Italian victims in the blast. “Italy will not be intimidated,” he said on Twitter.
Islamist militants have carried out roadside bomb attacks and suicide bombings which have so far targeted members of the security forces and officials.
Hundreds of soldiers and police have been killed since the army toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in 2013 following mass protests against his rule.
Egypt has witnessed a recent increase in attacks against tourism targets, including a suicide bombing near the ancient Karnak temple in Luxor last month.
An attack on Westerners could signal a dangerous escalation of violence in the country, which is relatively stable in a region engulfed by militancy and sectarian conflict since the Arab Spring uprisings.
A Western diplomat said he was aware of the explosion in front of the consulate but could not confirm that the building was the target.
The violence, and political turmoil triggered by the 2011 revolt that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak, have hurt Egypt’s tourism industry and economy.
Two weeks ago, a car bomb killed the country’s top public prosecutor and militants affiliated to Islamic State attacked several military checkpoints in North Sinai, in what was the fiercest fighting in the region in years.
The army said 17 soldiers and more than 100 militants were killed in those clashes.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi says militants poses a grave threat to Egypt. But military operations in the Sinai, the epicentre of an insurgency led by Islamic State’s Egyptian affiliate, have failed to defeat militants there.
Western countries are hoping Sisi can maintain relative stability in the Arab world’s most populous country, in a region beset by turmoil.