Top Egypt pros­e­cu­tor slain

The at­tack just be­fore a key an­niver­sary may au­gur a bloody new phase in the fight against ex­trem­ists.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Laura King and Amro Has­san laura. king@ latimes. com Twit­ter: @ lau­rak­ingLAT Has­san is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

CAIRO — The thun­der­ous bomb blast that killed Egypt’s state pros­e­cu­tor on Mon­day could her­ald a deadly new phase in the au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment’s nearly 2- year- old bat­tle to erad­i­cate Is­lamist ex­trem­ists.

The as­sas­si­na­tion of Hisham Barakat, who as pros­e­cu­tor gen­eral presided over a harsh ju­di­cial crack­down on sup­port­ers of Is­lamist groups, marked the f irst time in re­cent history that mil­i­tants had man­aged to suc­cess­fully strike so se­nior a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial.

It also came at a highly sym­bolic mo­ment: the eve of the an­niver­sary of 2013 pop­u­lar protests de­mand­ing the re­moval of Mo­hamed Morsi, an Is­lamist who was Egypt’s first freely elected pres­i­dent. Af­ter three days of mas­sive street demon­stra­tions, Gen. Ab­del Fat­tah Sisi, then the de­fense min­is­ter, stepped in and led the coup that de­posed Morsi.

Sisi, who is now pres­i­dent, vowed ret­ri­bu­tion for the killing of Barakat. “The per­pe­tra­tors will meet swift jus­tice,” said a state­ment from Sisi’s of­fice, which praised the pros­e­cu­tor as a “model of ju­di­cial in­tegrity.”

Sisi’s back­ers re­fer to his takeover as the “June 30 revo­lu­tion.” The gov­ern­ment had planned elab­o­rate cel­e­bra­tions to mark the sec­ond an­niver­sary — revelry that was abruptly called off af­ter Barakat’s death.

Egyp­tian se­cu­rity forces had been on high alert in ad­vance of the protest an­niver­sary, and the U. S. Em­bassy warned Amer­i­can cit­i­zens to be cau­tious in com­ing days. Anti- U. S. sen­ti­ment in Egypt rose af­ter Morsi’s re­moval, with Amer­i­can of­fi­cials seen as par­ti­sans of the Is­lamist pres­i­dent.

The last ma­jor as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt against a se­nior Egyp­tian gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial had been in Septem­ber 2013, when the mil­i­tant group An­sar Bayt al Maqdis, or Par­ti­sans of Jerusalem, tried to kill the then- in­te­rior min­is­ter, Mo­hamed Ibrahim, with a sui­cide blast in Cairo. He nar­rowly es­caped.

An­sar Bayt al Maqdis has since de­clared al­le­giance to Is­lamic State and re­branded it­self as Si­nai Province.

The group claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for an at­tack in May that killed three judges, and it is sus­pected in Mon­day’s blast be­cause of the so­phis­ti­cated plan­ning and the high- grade ex­plo­sives em­ployed.

The bomb­ing, in the up­scale neigh­bor­hood of He­liopo­lis, left a scat­ter of twisted, charred ve­hi­cles, sent a black plume of smoke into the air and pro­pelled burn­ing de­bris over a wide area. Egyp­tian news re­ports said the lack of a sui­cide at­tacker’s body led author­i­ties to sur­mise the ex­plo­sion was set off by re­mote con­trol.

As pros­e­cu­tor gen­eral, Barakat sat atop a pros­e­cu­to­rial ap­pa­ra­tus that moved against not only mem­bers of Morsi’s out­lawed Mus­lim Brother­hood, but sec­u­lar op­po­nents of the gov­ern­ment as well, though their num­bers were smaller.

Egypt’s courts are de­scribed by hu­man rights groups as highly politi­cized and a com­monly used tool of en­force­ment against antigov­ern­ment dis­senters of all stripes, but es­pe­cially the Brother­hood.

Tens of thou­sands of sup­port­ers of the move­ment, once Egypt’s largest op­po­si­tion group, are be­hind bars, and hun­dreds more have died in street clashes with se­cu­rity forces.

The Mus­lim Brother­hood has re­peat­edly dis­avowed use of vi­o­lence, but the gov­ern­ment por­trays it as the equiv­a­lent of armed groups such as Si­nai Penin­sula and rou­tinely blames it for at­tacks, even those claimed by oth­ers.

The gov­ern­ment has branded the Brother­hood a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion and moved to seize its as­sets and close its media af­fil­i­ates.

Khaled De­souki AFP/ Getty I mages

SE­CU­RITY FORCES guard the site of a bomb at­tack in Cairo that killed the Egyp­tian state pros­e­cu­tor, Hisham Barakat.

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