Clashes in Cairo leave four dead

Senior officer and soldier killed in drive-by shooting outside Cairo hotel, while two protesters die in clashes with police.

Police stand guard in the eastern Cairo suburb of Matariya, where two protesters were killed in clashes on  November 28, 2014. Asmaa Waguih / Reuters
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CAIRO // Two people were killed on Friday as Islamist protesters and police clashed in Cairo just hours after two soldiers, including a senior officer, were shot dead in the Egyptian capital.

The army and police had fanned out across Cairo and other cities in anticipation of rallies called by an Islamist group that opposes the military’s removal of president Mohamed Morsi last year.

Hours before the marchers left from mosques, gunmen in a car killed a brigadier general outside a hotel in the east of the city in an attack that also left another soldier dead and one wounded, the military and health officials said.

The assailants fled and were not identified, but protests by Islamists are increasingly giving way to armed attacks following a security crackdown that has killed hundreds of people and left thousands in jail.

In Cairo’s working class district of Matariya, at least two people were killed when protesters clashed with police, officials said.

A health ministry official said one, identified by a friend as Mohammed Hassan, was shot in the chest.

Hassan was apparently an Islamist who had regularly attended anti-government demonstrations.

“The police fired randomly at the protesters,” the friend said.

However, the interior ministry said police came under fire from the protesters, and officers arrested one of them carrying a shotgun.

In all 224 people were rounded up by police, the ministry said, for planning or carrying out acts of violence during the protests. Nearly half of them were arrested before the demonstrations got under way.

Smaller marches, quickly dispersed by police, were reported elsewhere.

In Cairo’s Haram district, only about 20 protesters turned up and fled at the sight of police. Officers frogmarched one suspected demonstrator left behind to a waiting police car.

The protests were called by the little-known Salafi Front, part of a loose network of Islamists who oppose the army’s removal of the Islamist president in July last year.

The interior ministry said police experts had defused eight rudimentary bombs across the country.

Also on Friday, an army officer and a policeman were wounded in an exchange of gunfire with unknown assailants in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, a security official said.

Islamists, particularly Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, were the strongest political bloc in Egypt before the military toppled him, following mass demonstrations demanding his resignation.

Mr Morsi’s ouster led to a deadly crackdown on his supporters that has killed hundreds. Thousands have also been arrested and jailed.

The Brotherhood has also been blacklisted as a terrorist group, making mere membership of the 86-year-old organisation punishable by a prison sentence.

Abdel Fattah El Sisi, the former army chief who won a presidential election earlier this year, has pledged to eradicate the group.

The Brotherhood insists it is peaceful, but the crackdown that has caused it to go underground is believed to have radicalised some of its members.

The deadliest attacks on security forces have been claimed by the militant Ansar Beit Al Maqdis group that is spearheading an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.

The group has killed scores of policemen and soldiers and recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group that controls parts of Iraq and Syria.

After an October ambush killed more than 30 soldiers, the government declared a state of emergency in part of Sinai and razed hundreds of homes to create a buffer zone along the border with Gaza.

* Agence France-Presse