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Car bomb rips through Italy consulate in Cairo – Kuwaitis in Egypt safe * Islamic State claims responsibility

headline1CAIRO: A car bomb outside Italy's consulate in Cairo yesterday killed one person, the first attack on a foreign mission since jihadists began a campaign against Egypt's security forces two years ago. The early morning explosion was heard across the city and wrecked the facade of the building, part of a large complex that also includes a social club and a school. It comes less than two weeks after suspected militants assassinated Egypt's top prosecutor in a Cairo car bombing.

Health ministry spokesman Hossam Abdel Ghaffar said yesterday's blast killed a civilian and wounded nine people, including policemen and passers-by. Officials said the explosion was caused by a car bomb, and the mangled wreck of a vehicle was strewn on the street outside the consulate. A police booth was completely destroyed, and about 50 buildings in the area were damaged. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, in an escalation of a Sinai-based insurgency that suggests militants are opening a new front against foreigners in Egypt.

"Through God's blessing, Islamic State soldiers were able to detonate a parked car bomb carrying 450 kg of explosive material on the headquarters of the Italian consulate in central Cairo," the group said on its Twitter account. "We recommend that Muslims stay clear of these security dens because they are legitimate targets for the mujahideen's strikes."

The Italian consul in Cairo arrived at the scene of the attack and went inside the building to inspect it, as condemnations poured in from Rome. "Italy will not let itself be intimidated," said Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni in a tweet, adding that there had been no Italian casualties. He later told a news conference that the consulate had been the intended target.

Meanwhile, Kuwait's ambassador in Cairo Salem Al-Zamanan said Kuwaiti citizens in Egypt are all safe and none of them has been harmed by a blast that rocked downtown Cairo early yesterday. "None of the Kuwaiti residents, students or tourists has been hurt by the explosion," Al-Zamanan said, urging Kuwaitis in Egypt to contact the embassy for inquiry or for help.

Italy 'intends to respond'
"We intend to respond firmly but also soberly... without alarmism," Gentiloni added. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi spoke to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and said the two countries will stand together "in the fight against terrorism and fanaticism". Militants have carried out scores of attacks since the army, then led by Sisi, overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. Militant attacks have killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers, mostly in the Sinai Peninsula. Diplomats had said 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 been relocated over security concerns. The attack was also denounced by EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and France, as both expressed solidarity with Egypt. "Once again Egypt is under attack, once again Europeans have been hit by terrorists," Mogherini said in a statement. "We stand by the Egyptian authorities in their efforts to fight terrorism and bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice." 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. IS, which controls parts of Iraq and Syria, has called on its affiliates elsewhere to attack Western targets.

Uproar over new law
The latest bombing comes with the government set to approve an anti-terrorism law that has sparked uproar among journalists and rights activists. The new legislation appears to grant police and soldiers impunity when carrying out "anti-terrorism" operations, and stipulates death sentences for the founders of vaguely defined "terrorist" groups. Five-year jail terms could also be meted out for promoting "terrorism" on social media.

The draft 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. Rights groups say freedoms have been trampled under Sisi's administration. Sisi won elections last year, pledging to wipe out the militants and Morsi's blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.

He 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 initially brought international pressure on Sisi, especially from the European Union, before giving way to support as he positions himself as a front line opponent of regional jihadists. Sisi is widely popular in Egypt, where many have demanded a strong leader who can restore stability after more than four years of turmoil following the 2011 uprising that overthrew president Hosni Mubarak.- Agencies

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This article was published on 11/07/2015