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Sun 12 Jul 2015 11:09 AM

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ISIL says behind bombing at Italian consulate in Cairo

Car bomb explodes outside the consulate

ISIL says behind bombing at Italian consulate in Cairo

ISIL claimed
responsibility for a car bomb attack at the Italian consulate in central Cairo
on Saturday, in an escalation of violence that suggests militants are opening a
new front against foreigners in Egypt.

"Through
God's blessing, ISIL 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 a website that carries its statements.

"We
recommend that Muslims stay clear of these security dens because they are
legitimate targets for the mujahideen's strikes."

Until now, ISIL
supporters in Egypt had not set their sights on Western targets, focusing
instead on security forces.

A health
ministry spokesman said one Egyptian civilian was killed and 10 wounded. State
news agency MENA separately said two policemen were among the wounded.

The blast
heavily damaged the consulate, shook other buildings downtown and could be
heard in several surrounding neighbourhoods.

Italy's Foreign
Minister Paolo Gentiloni said there were no Italian victims in the blast.
"Italy will not be intimidated," he added on Twitter.

Egyptian Prime
Minister Ibrahim Mehleb said the country was at war and urged the world to
unite against terrorism after the attack, a state-run newspaper reported.

President Abdel
Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief elected mostly on promises he would
deliver stability, has said militancy poses an existential threat to Egypt,
other Arab states and the West.

One of the
toughest security crackdowns in Egypt's history has weakened the mainstream
Muslim Brotherhood group, blamed by security officials for small-scale
bombings.

The
Brotherhood, removed from power by the army in 2013, says it is a peaceful
movement.

Meanwhile ISIL's
Egyptian affiliate, based in the Sinai, remains resilient despite steady
pressure from military fighter planes, Apache helicopters and ground troops.

Recently
renamed Sinai Province, it has been escalating bombing and shooting attacks on
soldiers and police since the military deposed President Mohamed Mursi of the
Brotherhood in 2013 after mass protests against his rule. Hundreds have died.

The attack at
the Italian consulate raises the stakes in the struggle between militants and
the government, which has just started rebuilding an economy battered by four
years of turmoil since an uprising toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

It also
highlighted ISIL's reach after it seized large swathes of Iraq and Syria,
expanded into Egypt's neighbour Libya and more recently claimed responsibility
for high-profile attacks in France, Kuwait and Tunisia.

Egypt has
witnessed an increase in attacks against tourism targets recently, including a
suicide bombing near the ancient Karnak temple in Luxor last month.

Egypt has been
relatively stable in a region engulfed by militancy and sectarian conflict
since the Arab Spring uprisings toppled dictators who had largely kept
militants under check through widespread repression.

Militant
violence and political turmoil triggered by the 2011 revolt that ousted Mubarak
have hurt Egypt's tourism industry, a traditional pillar of the economy.

Two weeks ago,
a car bomb killed the country's top public prosecutor and militants affiliated
to ISIL attacked several military checkpoints in North Sinai, in what was the
fiercest fighting in the region in years.

The army said
17 soldiers and more than 100 militants were killed in those clashes.

Western
countries are hoping ally Sisi can maintain relative stability in the Arab
world's most populous country.

Egypt is also
worried about spillover from militants who have been thriving in the chaos of
neighbouring Libya, where Sisi has already ordered air strikes on ISIL targets.