A string of bombings hit police around Cairo on Friday, including a car blast that ripped through the city's main police headquarters and wrecked a nearby museum of Islamic artifacts. Five people were killed in the most significant attack yet in the Egyptian capital at a time of mounting confrontation between Islamists and the military-backed government.
The blasts further hike tensions a day before rival rallies planned by both military supporters and their Islamist opponents on the third anniversary of Egypt's 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the bombings fueled the government's campaign to paint its top political opponent, the Muslim Brotherhood, as behind a wave of militant violence that has escalated since the military's July 3 ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and the subsequent crackdown on the Brotherhood.
Soon after the blast at the security headquarters, a crowd gathered outside the building, chanting slogans against the Brotherhood and in support of army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the man who ousted Morsi and who military supporters now want to run for president.
"Execution for Morsi and his leaders," one man shouted through a megaphone. A woman held up a picture depicting the Brotherhood as sheep, screaming, "Morsi is the butcher and el-Sissi will slaughter him."
Later in the day, anti-Islamist residents joined police in clashes with Brotherhood members holding their daily protests in multiple cities around the country. The clashes left at least three protesters dead. Elsewhere, there were several pro-military rallies in the streets, and TV networks aired phone calls from listeners calling on el-Sissi to deal a decisive blow to the Brotherhood.
Islamic militants have increasingly targeted police and the military with bombings and shootings. A day earlier, an al-Qaida-inspired group that claimed previous attacks released an audio message warning police and soldiers they will be targeted in a wave of violence unless they defect.
But authorities have accused the Brotherhood as being behind the violence, branding it officially as a terrorist organization. The Brotherhood has called the accusation baseless. But the branding has helped fuel a wave of popular sentiment against the group and in favour of the military. Security forces have painted their crackdown on Morsi's backers as part of the fight against terrorism, arresting thousands of its members.
Abdullah el-Sayyed, a 26-year-old salesman who lives behind the headquarters, said he was woken up by the blast, followed by heavy gunfire. He described policemen in panic.
"They were devastated. They were firing their guns in panic as if to call for rescue," he said. He added that he plans to return to his home village in Fayoum south of Cairo because he no longer feels safe. "It's not worth it anymore to stay here. Every day I ride the metro and go past here," he said.