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Bomb hits Italian consulate in Egypt, killing one

A member of the Egyptian security forces stands guard as people gather at the site of a bomb that targeted the convoy of Egyptian state prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, in the capital Cairo on June 29, 2015  © AFP/File

A member of the Egyptian security forces stands guard as people gather at the site of a bomb that targeted the convoy of Egyptian state prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, in the capital Cairo on June 29, 2015
© AFP/File

CAIRO, Jul 11 – A powerful bomb ripped through the Italian consulate in Cairo Saturday, killing one person, the first assault on a foreign mission in Egypt in a two-year jihadist campaign against security forces.

The consulate in central Cairo was closed at the time of the explosion around 6:30 am (0430 GMT), which brought down the facade of the building and could be heard across the capital.

A health ministry spokesman said the blast killed one person and wounded four. Medics had earlier said two policemen and three passers-by had been wounded.

Italy swiftly condemned the attack, with its foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni saying “Italy will not let itself be intimidated.”

He added on Twitter that there were no Italian casualties.

Militants have carried out scores of attacks since the army overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, killing hundreds of policemen and soldiers mostly in the Sinai Peninsula.

Diplomats had told AFP they had been warned by police months ago that embassies could be targeted, but it was not clear whether this was based on specific intelligence.

At least one Western embassy had relocated over security concerns.

The Italian consul in Cairo arrived at the scene of the attack and went inside the building to inspect it, refusing to speak to reporters.

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The official MENA news agency reported that the blast was caused by car bomb.

It brought down part of the building, and the remains of at least one vehicle were strewn on the street.

A small wooden police kiosk outside the consulate was completely destroyed.

The attack came less than two weeks after suspected militants assassinated the country’s top prosecutor in a car bombing in the capital.

In Sinai, jihadists loyal to the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria launched a wave of attacks on July 1 that killed at least 21 soldiers.

The Islamic State group, which controls parts of Iraq and Syria, has called on its affiliates elsewhere to attack Western targets.

Last week’s attacks had prompted President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to pledge tougher laws with the cabinet set to approve a controversial anti-terrorism law that sparked an uproar among journalists and rights activists.

– New ‘anti-terror’ law –

Sisi, the former army chief who led Morsi’s ouster, won elections last year, pledging to wipe out the militants and Morsi’s blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood movement.

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Sisi had overseen a crackdown that killed at least 1,400 people, mostly Islamist protesters during the dispersal of sometimes violent protests.

Thousands have been jailed, including secular dissidents, and hundreds sentenced to death in mass trials, although most have won retrials.

The crackdown had initially brought international pressure, especially from the European Union, on Sisi which has largely given way to support as he positions himself as a front line opponent of regional jihadists.

Sisi visited Italy among other European countries late last year, meeting his Italian counterpart Matteo Renzi.

The president is widely popular in Egypt, where many have demanded a strong leader who can restore stability after more than four years of turmoil following a 2011 uprising that overthrew veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak.

But rights groups say freedoms have been trampled under Sisi’s administration.

The draft anti-terrorism law would ban independent reporting of militant attacks, stipulating a two-year prison sentence for journalists who contradict death tolls in official statements.

The cabinet has said it would reconsider that provision following a media outcry.

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