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Out There News

Attack on Egyptian ministers shows militants undefeated

By Paul Eedle 

CAIRO, Aug 19 (Reuter) - An assassination attempt on Egypt's interior minister suggests Moslem militants fighting to overthrow the government are far from defeated and may even be learning new skills. 

Four people were killed and 16, including minister Hassan al-Alfi, were injured on Wednesday morning when a bomb packed with ball bearings exploded near his car outside the entrance to the interior ministry. Nobody claimed responsibility but the most likely attackers were Moslem militants, who have targeted police, tourists and government officials over the last 18 months in an attempt to undermine President Hosni Mubarak. 

Alfi himself seemed to have no doubt that his attackers were religious militants when he spoke to Egyptian television after an emergency operation on his right arm. He lay flat on his back in bed and spoke in a hoarse voice. "We are continuing on our path. God willing we shall keep the peace of Egypt and the security of Egypt. This should be a sign to the whole world that the terrorists are killers and butchers with no religion," Alfi said. "The public must move. Those people (the attackers) should get what they deserve. The public should take its revenge on them," he urged. 

The cabinet later met in Cairo and Minister of State Ahmad Radwan said it agreed measures "to confront terrorism and punish its perpetrators and planners at home and abroad". He gave no details. 

If the militants were responsible, it would prove they have survived drastic government measures to eliminate their leaders and cow their supporters. Police raids in March killed 19 militants, including a man believed to have led gun attacks on tourist buses and boats in Upper Egypt. A total of 15 militants were hanged in June and July, the largest number of executions for political crimes in Egypt this century. 

The attack would also suggest that the militants might be becoming more sophisticated. They have shot dead two police generals in Upper Egypt this year, each time ambushing their cars. Information Minister Safwat al-Sherif narrowly escaped death in April when militant gunmen riddled his car with bullets near his house. A further ambush last month showed the same technique: gunmen opened fire on a car carrying an army general whom they probably believed to be the head of the military courts that condemned their comrades to death. He escaped unhurt. 

But Wednesday's attack on Alfi suggested a new level of skill. Security sources said the bomb, which seemed to have been attached to a motorcycle, appeared to have been detonated by remote control. The attackers appear to have remained at a safe distance, although it seemed conceivable that one of the four people killed might have been a suicide bomber. First reports that gunmen had opened fire on Alfi's black Peugeot and a second car carrying bodyguards were discounted by the interior ministry. 

Western intelligence sources do not rule out some outside training and support for the militants, which could explain a rising level of skill. Fundamentalist sources say some militant leaders have been operating from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the head of the latest group to appear in court -- a revival of the movement that assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981 -- is believed close to Iran.

The overall spiritual leader of Egypt's militants is Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is in prison on immigration charges in New York state. His lawyer said on Wednesday he might be ready to leave the United States if he could go to Afghanistan.