CAIRO (AP) — A car packed with explosives being driven to carry out an attack collided with other vehicles and exploded in central Cairo, killing at least 20 people, the Interior Ministry said Monday, the deadliest attack in the Egyptian capital in over two years.
The blast went off Sunday night on the busy Corniche boulevard along the Nile River, setting other cars on fire and injuring at least 47. It damaged Egypt’s main cancer hospital nearby, shattering parts of the facade and some rooms inside, forcing the evacuation of dozens of patients.
Authorities had initially said the explosion was caused by a multi-vehicle accident. But later Monday, the Interior Ministry acknowledged that a car bomb was involved.
It accused a militant group known as Hasm, which has links to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, saying it was moving the car to carry out an attack elsewhere. The ministry did not say what the intended target was. The car had been stolen months earlier in the Nile Delta, it said.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi called it a “terrorist incident” in a tweet, expressing condolences for the dead and vowed to “face and root out terrorism.”
The attack is the deadliest in Cairo since a bombing at a chapel adjacent to Egypt’s main Coptic Christian cathedral killed 30 people during Sunday Mass in December 2016. That attack was claimed by Egypt’s affiliate of the Islamic State group.
Smaller bombings, usually by roadside devices, have taken place more often, targeting security forces and in two cases tourists near the Pyramids. Car bombs, however, have been far rarer in the capital.
For years, Egypt has battled Islamic militants, led by an IS affiliate, in the Sinai Peninsula. That insurgency has at times spilled over into other parts of the country.
Militant attacks increased after el-Sissi, as defence minister, led the military’s 2013 ouster of then-President Mohammed Morsi, a Brotherhood leader, after massive protests against his rule. Since then, the government has waged a major crackdown on the Brotherhood, banning it and declaring it a terrorist organization. Morsi collapsed and died in a Cairo courtroom in June.
Sunday’s blast damaged the cancer hospital’s main gate and several patient rooms and wards, according to a statement from the Cairo University, whose medical school uses the institution as an educational facility. Windows and glass doors on the hospital building were shattered.
“Parts of the ceiling of the hospital were collapsing as I got out of my room,” said one patient, Mahmoud el-Sayed. “People were running everywhere and shouting.”
At least 78 patients were evacuated to other hospitals. The Health Ministry did not say whether any patients or hospital staff were among the casualties.
Multiple vehicles on the street were damaged, burning those inside, said another witness, Mohamed Ashraf. “People were struggling to get the passengers out,” he said.
In its initial account of the explosion, the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, said a vehicle was driving against traffic on the boulevard and collided with up to three other cars, causing an explosion. It didn’t elaborate when it later announced the car bomb, and it was not clear which vehicle in that scenario was the vehicle with explosives.
The police quickly cordoned off the area of the crash, as prosecutors began an investigation. Unidentified body parts were being collected in a body bag from the site, Health Minister Hala Zayed said in TV comments.
The hospital is close to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which became known internationally as the scene of mass protests in the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
After the blast, some patients with appointments Monday were left stranded, waiting outside the hospital with their relatives. Ahmed Ramadan, a farmer, had brought his daughter from their home 145 kilometers (90 miles) south of Cairo for chemotherapy.
“We do not know where to go,” he said.