CAIRO — A car packed with explosives detonated in downtown Cairo on Monday, killing at least 20 and injuring 47, Egypt’s Interior Ministry said. It was the highest terrorism-related death toll in the capital in more than two years.
The government initially said the early-morning blast was caused by the collision of four cars. But later in the day, the Interior Ministry said the explosives-filled car was actually on its way to commit an attack in another part of the capital.
“The technical inspection also indicated that the vehicle contained explosives that cause the blast when the car collided with the other cars,” the ministry said in a statement. “It is estimated that the car was being driven to a place to be used in carrying out a terrorist operation elsewhere.”
The statement added that the car was stolen a few months ago from the province of Menufia, 55 miles north of Cairo.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast. But Egyptian authorities were quick to blame Hasm, a militant group that emerged three years ago and has claimed several attacks. Egypt accuses Hasm of being the militant arm of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamist movement, once a political force, has denied the allegations.
The blast started a fire that triggered the partial evacuation of the National Cancer Institute, the capital’s main cancer hospital, according to Egypt’s Health Ministry.
Even before the correction by the Interior Ministry, some witnesses suspected what had really happened.
”There was a sound of an extremely loud blast,” a resident who gave her name only as Salwa told Reuters news agency. “It was no way two cars crashing. The car must have been rigged with explosives.”
Monday’s attack was more bad news for a nation that depends heavily on tourism for revenue and foreign currency reserves. It also underscored the lingering threat posed by militant groups, even as the country has not experienced a large-scale attack since November 2017. That was when Islamic State militants were widely believed to have killed more than 350 people at a mosque in Egypt’s restive northern Sinai region.
In 2015, the Islamic State affiliate in Sinai asserted responsibility for the downing of a Russian passenger plane after it left the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. That attack, which killed all 224 people aboard, shattered Egypt’s tourism-driven economy.
The last major militant attack in Cairo was in December 2016 when Egypt’s main Coptic Christian cathedral was bombed by the Islamic State, killing 30 and injuring dozens.
Today, much of the focus of Egypt’s counterterrorism efforts is in the northern Sinai, where Egyptian security forces are carrying out a military campaign against the Islamic State and other militant groups.
While militant attacks outside Sinai have become rare, tourists have been targeted. In May, a tourist bus carrying mostly South African tourists was struck by explosives, injuring at least 12. In December, three Vietnamese tourists and their Egyptian guide were killed by a roadside bomb near Cairo’s famed Pyramids complex.
In a Facebook post on Monday, President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi offered his condolences to the victims’ families and vowed to “defeat this brutal terrorism.”
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The Washington Post’s Heba Farouk Mahfouz contributed to this report.