, CAIRO, January 24- A suicide bomber struck Cairo police headquarters on Friday, the first of three bombings in the Egyptian capital that killed five people ahead of the anniversary of the 2011 uprising.
The attacks came a day before police were to deploy across the capital for the third anniversary of the uprising that unseated Hosni Mubarak, with Islamists calling for mass protests against the new regime.
In the first attack, an assailant rammed a bomb-laden car into a metal fence surrounding the Cairo security directorate at around 6:15 am (0415 GMT), killing four people and wounding more than 70, police officials and the health ministry said.
The bombing damaged the nearby Museum of Islamic Art, bringing down ceilings and damaging a relic wooden prayer niche from the mediaeval Fatimid period, culture minister Mohamed Ibrahim told AFP.
Hours later, another bomb, a small makeshift device, was set off near a police vehicle close to a metro station, killing a police conscript, security officials said.
That was followed by a third outside a police station on a road leading to the Giza pyramids. It caused no casualties, the interior ministry said.
“They don’t want the people to to celebrate,” the January 25 anniversary, the interior minister, who is also named Mohamed Ibrahim, said of the assailants, adding he expected large crowds to take to the streets on Friday.
Islamist supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi had called for further protests from Friday against what they call the “military coup” that overthrew him in July.
“The National Pro-Legitimacy Alliance condemns the Cairo bomb and reaffirms commitment to peaceful struggle against coup,” the pro-Morsi coalition wrote on Twitter.
The president’s office vowed to “avenge our martyrs.”
“Whoever planned, participated, financed, or incited (the attack) will be punished with the worst form of punishment,” it said.
A witness to the police headquarters bombing said the booby trapped car had slammed into the metal fence surrounding the building.
“I was on the third floor, with the head of security,” said the policeman, Mahmud Mushref, his head bandaged after he was injured in the blast.
“The car crashed into the fence, and the explosion happened.”
The blast left a large crater in the ground and sent a plume of smoke billowing above the city, an AFP correspondent reported.
“The vehicle tried to get close to the building but was stopped at the gate. Casualties were relatively small given the size of the blast,” said interior ministry spokesman Hany Abdel Latif.
Friday is the Muslim day of prayer and rest and so relatively few people were on the streets.
State television said investigators had found the remains of the suspected suicide bomber.
A witness who lives in an apartment about 200 metres (yards) away from the police building said he had been woken up by the explosion.
“My building shook,” Yahya Attiya said.
Riot police pushed back hundreds of onlookers, some of whom chanted slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood.
Militants have escalated attacks since the military overthrew Morsi after only a year of turbulent rule.
Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood has denied involvement in the attacks, but was blacklisted as a terrorist group after 15 people were killed when a suicide bomber blew up a vehicle at a police headquarters north of Cairo in December.
An Al-Qaeda inspired group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, claimed responsibility for that attack, but many blame the Brotherhood,
“I can now call the Muslim Brotherhood the terrorist Brotherhood,” said Attiya, as he surveyed the wreckage outside the police headquarters.
Others in the crowd near the bomb site carried Egyptian flags and some held up posters of army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the general who overthrew Morsi.
The Brotherhood has condemned previous attacks against the police and army since Morsi’s overthrow.
Scores of soldiers and police have been killed in the restive Sinai Peninsula and militants in the desert region have begun to expand their operations to densely populated areas of the rest of the country.
On Thursday, masked assailants on motorbikes gunned down five policemen at a checkpoint south of Cairo.
There have also been several bombings in Cairo, including a failed assassination attempt against the interior minister in September, weeks after policemen killed hundreds of Islamist demonstrators in clashes at a protest camp.
More than 1,000 people, mostly Islamists, have been killed in street clashes since Morsi’s overthrow.
Thousands more have been jailed, including the ousted president and other Brotherhood leaders.