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CAIRO — Thousands of anti-government protesters flowed out of mosques in Muslim Brotherhood-led rallies nationwide today as authorities said the car used in a bombing targeting the interior minister had been stolen.
Demonstrators chanted “down with military rule” and waved Egyptian flags. Security was on alert amid heightened tensions. Others in the rallies held up pictures of former President Mohammed Morsi, a longtime Brotherhood leader who was ousted by the military in a July 3 coup after mass protests against him.
Security officials said they had questioned a man who owned the car used in Thursday’s bombing and found it may have been stolen, but they gave no further details.
Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who heads the police force waging a crackdown against the Islamists, narrowly escaped the assassination attempt when a car bomb tore through his convoy — the first such attack against a senior government official since Morsi’s ouster.
Health Ministry official Ahmed el-Ansari said one civilian among 22 people, including policemen, wounded in the attack died of his wounds today.
Several newspapers ran with front-page photos of charred body parts and the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm suggested that the bombing could herald a new trend toward political assassination attempts.
The Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement after the attack saying it is guided by “Islamic faith” and “peaceful civil resistance” and condemns the use of violence. But the attack raised fears that militants could try to expand a campaign of revenge for the coup as well as the likelihood of an even tougher hand by authorities against protesters demanding Morsi’s return to office. A nighttime curfew that has been imposed across much of Egypt since mid-August was extended by four hours, starting at 7 p.m., due to the rallies.
Despite the tense atmosphere, women and men protested after midday today prayers in Cairo and the cities of Ismailiya, Suez and Assiut among others.
Clashes between anti-Brotherhood residents and protesters broke out in the Nile Delta city of Tanta and in Egypt’s second-largest city of Alexandria. Security officials said the army and police intervened in Alexandria to break up the two sides, who were throwing rocks and fighting in the streets. The Brotherhood posted a picture online purporting to show plainclothes policemen and hired gunmen being transported in police trucks to the site of clashes in Tanta to fight the anti-government protesters. The picture could not be verified but conformed to previous reporting by The Associated Press of similar clashes.
All officials spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Many protesters raised yellow signs depicting “four fingers,” the symbol adopted to commemorate Rabaah el-Adawiya, the name of a pro-Morsi protest encampment that was dispersed violently by security forces last month. The attack sparked several days of violence that killed more than 1,000 people, most of them Morsi supporters.
The Brotherhood called today's protests for “the people to protect the revolution,” in reference to the uprising that ousted longtime autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. While the group’s protests have been smaller in recent weeks in large part due to the arrest of thousands of Brotherhood leaders and members, the group is still able to rally its base of supporters to the streets.
Egypt’s judiciary is currently looking into a number of cases that could decide the fate of the group. Many of the group’s members are facing charges of inciting or taking part in acts of violence against the police and army.
Also, a panel of Egyptian judges recommended this week the Brotherhood be dissolved, adding momentum to a push by authorities to ban the ousted president’s main backer. In its recommendation to Egypt’s administrative court, the panel of judges accused the Brotherhood of operating outside the law. It also recommended the closure of its Cairo headquarters. The recommendation is non-binding.
The distinction between the religious-based Brotherhood organization and its political party remain unclear, raising questions about financing and legal status and driving many opponents to file lawsuits seeking the Brotherhood’s dissolution. Amid questions over its murky status, the group last year registered itself as a civil society organization and that is what is currently under legal challenge.
An unnamed official from the Ministry of Social Solidarity told the state-owned MENA news agency that a decision on disbanding the group would be made in the coming days. The ministry does not have to wait for a court decision to dissolve non-governmental organizations following the suspension of the constitution.