Gunmen on a motorbike killed a senior Egyptian Interior Ministry official outside his home in Cairo on Tuesday, putting pressure on the military- backed government as it struggles to contain an Islamist insurgency.
The death of Gen. Mohamed Saeed, head of the technical office of the interior minister, suggested guerrillas were stepping up their campaign against the state at a delicate time in Egyptian politics.
Army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who toppled former president Mohamed Morsi in July, is expected to announce his candidacy for the same post in the coming days, a move that will anger Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
A bullet shattered the window of the car he was in during broad daylight – a reminder of the Islamist insurgency that raged for several years in the 1990s until former president Hosni Mubarak crushed it.
Saeed’s assassination came hours before Morsi appeared at a courthouse set up at a Cairo police academy to face charges of kidnapping and killing policemen after a jailbreak during the uprising.
Morsi, who faces charges in three other cases, was not allowed to freely scream slogans against Sisi and the army-backed government, as he did in previous court sessions.
This time he was held in a glass cage with a sound system controlled by the court, another example of the crackdown on dissent, which has drawn criticism from human rights groups.
At one point Morsi said he was still the president of Egypt, and asked the judiciary not to engage in political revenge.
Screaming at the judge, he said: “Who are you? Don’t you know who I am?” “I am the chief of Egypt’s Criminal Court,” said the judge.
At other times Morsi, in a white sweatsuit, paced in his cage. Other Brotherhood leaders, held in a separate glass cage, waved to people in the courtroom.
A list of 132 defendants published by state media indicated some were Palestinians still on the run. Egyptian authorities accused Hamas of helping Brotherhood leaders escape.
They said Hamas has provided funding for Egyptian terror groups based in Sinai who have claimed bombing and shooting attacks like the one on Tuesday.
The Interior Ministry confirmed Saeed’s killing. He was an aide to Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, who survived an assassination attempt last year.
Jihad groups based in the largely lawless Sinai Peninsula have killed hundreds of police and soldiers since Morsi’s downfall, but the Islamist insurgency appears to be taking root beyond the region.
Sinai-based Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which posted a video online of what it said was its fighters shooting down a military helicopter with a surfaceto- air missile (SAM), is causing concern in Washington.
A senior US defense official told The Washington Post that the development is a “significant concern” and “something we’ve been worried about for some time.”
The official said the subject was discussed in a phone conversation between Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Sisi.
“Saturday’s SAM attack confirms long-held suspicions that at least some of the SAMs smuggled into Gaza, mostly from Libya, have remained in the Sinai,” David Barnett, a research associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to the Long War Journal website, told The Jerusalem Post.
Barnett, who closely follows ongoing fighting in Sinai, said additional SAM attacks could alter dimensions of the region.
“Unfortunately, attacks in the Egyptian mainland appear to be becoming a norm,” he said.
Also, in Sinai, suspected guerrillas blew up a pipeline Monday night for the third time this year, Egyptian media reported.