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Sunday 25 February 2018

Car bomb hits Italian consulate

People stand outside the Italian consulate following a blast in Cairo (AP)
People stand outside the Italian consulate following a blast in Cairo (AP)

One person has died after a car bomb exploded outside the Italian Consulate in Cairo, destroying several floors of the historic building.

The blast, which killed an Egyptian civilian, is the latest casualty in an ongoing Islamic militant campaign targeting the country's security forces.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast, though Egypt faces threats from insurgent factions including an Islamic State (IS) affiliate in its restive Sinai Peninsula which the military said killed at least 17 soldiers in a recent assault there.

The Italian Consulate bomb detonated in a side street in Cairo near the building's back entrance and a busy highway overpass.

Italian authorities said the consulate was closed at the time and none of its workers were wounded.

The blast killed a passer-by and wounded eight, only one of whom is still in the hospital, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Italian premier Matteo Renzi spoke with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi after the attack, saying in a statement: "We will not leave Egypt alone: Italy and Egypt are and will always be together in the fight against terrorism."

Italian foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni said that Italy would increase security at Italian sites in Cairo and greater Egypt.

"This is not a challenge that the West will win by itself," he said.

"It is a challenge that we will win together with the large majority of the Islamic community and of the Arab governments."

An Egyptian security official said investigators were reviewing closed-circuit video recordings from the area, noting that one vehicle that disintegrated in the explosion had licence plates from the canal city of Suez.

The blast heavily damaged the distinctive early 20th century building that once housed a school and became the Italian Consulate after the Second World War.

Charred car parts littered the street, which flooded in some areas from ruptured water pipes. Several floors of the consulate were destroyed on one side, leaving a gaping hole.

"I was sleeping when the explosion went off; it blew in my window and when I went outside the air was full of dust," said Ahmed Hasan, 20, a neighbour whose leg suffered minor cuts from flying glass.

Civilians gathered around the area of the explosion, as police cordoned off the streets leading to the consulate.

Several foreign journalists were briefly detained on the scene by police but later released. Interior minister Magdy Abd El-Ghaffar later inspected the blast site.

The consulate sits on one of the busiest intersections in Cairo, along a major artery that connects Ramsis Square to the heart of the capital.

The surrounding area includes a large hospital, a major police station surrounded by blast walls, a central ambulance dispatching station and the state-owned flagship newspaper Al-Ahram.

The blast comes less than two weeks after the country's chief prosecutor was killed in an explosion near his home in Cairo as he was heading to work.

Press Association

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