CAIRO — An assailant stabbed an American man outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo today, a security official said, in a rare attack on a U.S. national in the Egyptian capital.
The American was rushed to a nearby hospital and the motives for the assault were not immediately clear. According to the Egyptian official, an assailant wielding a knife attacked the American as he stood outside the embassy building in the central Cairo neighborhood of Garden City.
The embassy was once a heavily fortified facility but security measures have been relaxed despite street protests over the past two years in the nearby Tahrir Square, the focal point of Egypt’s 2011 uprising.
The attacker was arrested and was being questioned by police, said the security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. He refused to elaborate or identify the American. It was not immediately clear if the victim was waiting in the line outside the U.S. citizens’ services and consular section when the attack happened.
A medic at the al-Qasr al-Aini hospital, also speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reason as the security official, said the American was admitted to the emergency room but refused to give further details.
There was no immediate comment from the U.S. Embassy on the incident.
Crime, including armed robberies, rape and assaults, has surged in Egypt in the past two years since the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. The country is awash with weapons smuggled across the border from Libya and elsewhere, while Egypt’s police force — despised for its rampant rights abuses under Mubarak — virtually collapsed amid the 18-day revolt and has since struggled to fully recover, leaving the streets unsafe and law enforcement lacking.
Though stabbing attacks such as today's are uncommon, the compound around the U.S. Embassy in Cairo has seen past violence and anti-American incidents.
On Sept. 11, thousands of ultraconservative Salafis held an angry protest, attacking the embassy building and scaling its walls to rip apart the U.S. flag and replace it with an Islamic banner. The rally was prompted by a video made in the United States that ridiculed Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
The same night, Islamic militants attacked the U.S mission in the eastern city of Benghazi, Libya, killing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans there.
Months after the election of Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood group, the government has largely failed to improve security and the nation’s economy is in shambles.
At the same time, authorities are pursuing rights activists and journalists in escalating campaigns of intimidation and legal proceedings.
Five rights activists went on trial today in Cairo on charges of torching the campaign headquarters of a front-runner in the country’s 2012 presidential election. Ahmed Shafiq, the former prime minister who lost the race to Morsi, had withdrawn his complaint against the five but the state prosecutor proceeded with the case anyway.
Among the five on trial were Alaa Abdel-Fatah, a well-known blogger and one of youth leaders behind the 2011 uprising, and his sister, Mona Seif, who has led a campaign against military tribunals over the courts’ harsh and swift rulings.
Also today, another Egyptian court ordered the release of 11 young men held over charges of belonging to the so-called “Black Bloc” group, which authorities have qualified as a terrorist organization. The Black Bloc are masked protesters who surfaced last year during anti-Morsi rallies and vowed to defend other demonstrators from attacks by security forces or Islamist rivals.
The 11 were detained during clashes between Brotherhood supporters and protesters during a mid-April rally in central Cairo. The court ordered their release because of lack of evidence.