Egypt's top prosecutor Hisham Barakat died from injuries sustained in a Cairo bomb attack on Monday, the first successful assassination attempt against a state official since an upswing in violence following the 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
Barakat suffered internal bleeding in the lungs and stomach and fractures to the nose and left shoulder, health ministry spokesperson Hossam Abdel-Ghaffar told Ahram Online. He was taken to the operating room at Al-Nozha hospital in Heliopolis, where he succumbed to his injuries hours after the attack.
Nine people, including two drivers and five members of the security forces, were injured when a bomb hit the prosecutor's convoy near the military academy in the upscale district of Heliopolis, Abdel-Ghaffar said. The blast damaged the fronts of nine houses and destroyed 31 vehicles, four of which were torched, a security source told state news agency MENA.
A car bomb had parked in a street near Barakat's house, through which his convoy would pass every day on his way to work, the justice ministry said. When it went off, Barakat's vehicle, along with others, were swept away and quickly caught fire.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack so far.
A judicial source said that Zakaria Abd El-Aziz has been appointed as Egypt's acting prosecutor-general following the assassination of Barakat, the Ahram Arabic news website has reported. Abd El-Aziz, who was a judge at the Cairo Court of Appeal, had served as assistant prosecutor-general since April.
Egypt's state TV has reported that a military funeral will take place for Barakat Tuesday noon in El-Moshir Tantawy Mosque in Cairo's upper class Fifth Settlement.
"Egypt has lost a great judicial figure who has shown dedication to work and commitment to the ethics of the noble judicial profession," Egypt's presidency said in a statement, describing the attack as an "act of terrorism".
The presidency also announced the cancelation of celebrations commemorating the second anniversary of the 30 June events, in which Morsi was ousted from power.
The US embassy in Cairo issued a short statement describing the incident as a "heinous terrorist attack", part of worldwide condemnation of Barakat's killing.
President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi met with Interior Minister Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar right after the attack. El-Sisi urged the ministry to tighten security measures and find the perpetrators.
Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry mourned the loss of Barakat and renewed calls for the international community to rise up to the level of terrorist threat worldwide in order to eliminate it.
Egypt's political parties from across the political spectrum, including the ultra-conservative Salafist Nour Party and left-of-center Constitution Party, also condemned the attack and mourned the loss of Barakat. "All Egyptians should unite now to face the terrorism," said Essam Khalil, secretary general of the liberal Free Egyptians Party.
Egyptian stocks fell following the assassination of Barakat. Benchmark index, EGX30, usually drops after major militant attacks.
Earlier on Monday, the Islamic State-affiliated jihadist group Sinai Province, previously known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis before proclaiming allegiance to IS, released a video that shows their attack on judges in North Sinai's Al-Arish in May. A title at the bottom of the screen reads "Assassination of five of the tyrant's judges."
The IS-affiliated Sinai Province claimed responsibility for a number of large-scale militant attacks across Egypt, including the previous assassination attempt against a state official, which former Egypt interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim escaped unscathed in September 2013. The bomb attack on Ibrahim in Cairo left one civilian dead and 21 injured, including six policemen and a child.
Islamist militants, who have primarily targeted security forces since the removal of Morsi over the past two years, have more recently targeted several judges amid the conviction of many Morsi supporters in terror-related cases. In January, a bomb attack targeting judge Khaled Mahgoub, who is representing the general prosecution in Morsi's jailbreak trial, caused damage to the windows and walls of his house.
In March, a small bomb was left in front of the house of judge Fathi Bayoumi, who investigated the corruption charges against Mubarak-era interior minister Habib El-Adly. The words "a gift for El-Adly's acquittal" were scribbled on a wall near the attack.
Ahmed Ban, a researcher specialised in Islamist groups, told Ahram Online that the attack on Barakat's convoy was "expected”, especially within the current context of "inciting" religious preachers supporting "terrorist groups", and the previous targeting of judges and judicial figures. "All these indicators allowed us to predict a major attack against the judiciary," he said.
Barakat took over as Egypt's chief prosecutor following the reign of a "private" prosecution chosen by the Muslim Brotherhood under Morsi, Ban added, and so it is understandable that he would top a hit list.
Sixty-five-year-old Barakat was sworn in as Egypt's top prosecutor under the rule of interim president Adly Mansour in July 2013. He was due to keep his position until 2020.
Supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood accuse Egypt's judiciary of issuing politicised sentences, including against the group's supreme guide Mohamed Badie and Morsi, who also hails from the Brotherhood. Both are among dozens of the now banned group's members who have been sentenced to death.
After the assassination of Barakat, the Brotherhood, on the website of its now-defunct political wing the Freedom and Justice Party, said "murder is unacceptable" but added that "there is no way to stop bloodshed except by crushing the military coup and empowering the revolution”, saying only "justice can stop the violence".
Ban says the authorities should show wisdom and professionalism in keeping up with "the current challenges", and should carefully review their current strategy to combat militant groups, especially as these groups show advanced organisational and combat skills. Ban said he expects more attacks and assassination attempts targeting government figures.