CAIRO (AP) — A bomb exploded outside a military intelligence building northeast of Egypt’s capital Sunday, wounding four people and damaging the structure as protests and security scares roiled the country just weeks before a key vote.
The explosion in Anshas, a village in Sharqiya province, came as violent student protests at a Cairo university and its branches played on television channels across the country, only adding to the turmoil and sense of public worry in Egypt following a July 3 popularly backed military coup that toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
The military-backed interim government, wanting to cement its legitimacy, hopes for a strong voter turnout for a constitutional referendum Jan. 14-15. The country’s interim president suggested Sunday that the order of the parliamentary and presidential polls following it could be changed.
The bombing struck the military intelligence building in Anshas, a village 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Cairo that is home to number of military facilities, including an air base and Egypt’s first experimental nuclear reactor. AP Television News footage showed debris littering the ground and a large gash in one of its walls.
Military spokesman Ahmed Mohammed Ali said on his official Facebook page that the explosion damaged the back wall of the military intelligence office and wounded four soldiers guarding it. He said an investigation had begun to determine what caused the blast.
Ali said the blast was part of a series “of cowardly terrorist operations carried out by the forces of darkness and sedition against the people of Egypt, military installations and vital targets.”
Security officials said investigators were trying to determine whether the blast was caused by a hand grenade or a car bomb. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to journalists.
The blast struck as protests against Morsi’s ouster continued Sunday. For the second day, protesters disrupted exams at the Islamic University of Al-Azhar. At the Cairo campus, some students tore up their examination papers, while others threw rocks as police fired tear gas. Police arrested 27 students over the protests, security officials said.
One student was killed in clashes Saturday and a main administration building was set on fire.
The violence stopped those wanting to take exams from reaching classrooms. Tawfiq Nour el-Din, deputy dean of the university, told state television that alternative rooms will be prepared to ensure exams continue. Later Sunday, Egypt state news agency MENA reported that university security officials defused two homemade bombs planted on campus.
Students say they are organizing an exam boycott campaign to protest the arrest and killing of their colleagues. They deny starting the violence.
“They are trying to frighten us. ... They do not like that a large number of students are against the coup,” student leader Youssof Salhen said.
The tension extended to the university branch in the southern city of Assiut, where students closed the campus gates, preventing others from taking their tests. Security officials said students lobbed firebombs at one of the riot police vehicles deployed outside campus, setting it on fire. The students chased two soldiers out of the car before forces deployed to provide them with protection, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
Meanwhile, state television reported that passers-by also found an undetonated homemade bomb outside the medical school of the Al-Azhar University branch in the Nile Delta city of Damietta.
A coalition led by the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which Morsi hails, has held near-daily protests over his ouster since the coup. Authorities responded with an intense crackdown on the group, including the government declaring it a terrorist organization in recent days and blaming it for the rise in militant attacks. The Brotherhood, which renounced violence in the late 1970s, repeatedly has denied being responsible for the attacks.
The government hopes coming elections will solidify its control and power. On Sunday, Interim President Adly Mansour said a presidential election can come before a planned parliamentary poll in the country without violating a military-backed transition plan put in place after the coup. The votes will be held within six months after the constitutional referendum, Mansour said.
Backers of the plan have pushed for electing a president first amid continued opposition from Morsi supporters. Many groups that have met with Mansour over the past days to discuss the plan have supported selecting a president first, worrying that a parliamentary vote would fragment the country. Some say an elected leader would quell the opposition’s challenge to the interim authorities.
Authorities also fear Morsi supporters will try to derail the coming votes through protests or violence. However, the government has provided no evidence linking the Brotherhood to the ongoing attacks.