The brazen daylight assassination of a police general in Cairo underscores the growing insecurity in Egypt, as it awaits an announcement from its army chief to run for the presidency.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, an al-Qaeda-inspired group from the restive Sinai Peninsula, said it shot dead General Mohamed Saeed outside his home in a western neighbourhood of the capital on Saturday, and threatened more such attacks.
The killing came a day after Egypt's top brass threw its weight behind Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to run for the presidency, which if he pitches for is expected to easily win.
Sisi has not announced his candidacy yet, but has said he would run for the presidency if there was “popular demand”.
“Vengeance is coming,” Ansar Beit al-Maqdis threatened in a statement addressing Sisi and interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim.
In just over six months, Sisi has managed to win accolades from a vast section of Egyptians for leading the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and crushing his Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Morsi, Egypt's first elected civilian president, was toppled by Sisi after one turbulent year in office following mass street protests, amid allegations of grabbing power and ruining an already deteriorating economy.
A victory for Sisi would keep alive a tradition of Egyptian presidents being drawn from the armed forces, but the road ahead is expected to be riddled with sustained political turmoil and challenges on the security front.
The Muslim Brotherhood criticised the army's backing for Sisi.
“Now it is evident that what happened on July 3 was a full-fledged military coup,” it said in a statement on Tuesday, referring to the day when Morsi was ousted.
“The military council, whose main mission is to protect and not rule, mandated its chief, the leader of the coup, to run for the presidency, so the military can dominate political life in Egypt when it should remain far away from politics.”
General Saeed's killing and later that of a policeman outside a Cairo church highlights the precarious security situation across Egypt since the 2011 overthrow of veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak, with the violence having only worsened since Morsi's ouster.
At least 1,400 people, mostly Morsi supporters, have been killed in a relentless crackdown on Islamists, according to Amnesty International, while scores of policemen and soldiers have fallen to militant attacks.
Since Thursday alone, at least 13 policemen have been killed across the country, while four soldiers were killed in Sinai, according to an AFP tally.
Egyptian newspapers condemned Saeed's killing.
“Terrorism assassinates general,” said a front-page headline in state-run Al-Gomhuria, while Al-Akhbar said “Bullet of treachery assassinates general.”
Supporters of Sisi feel he is the only person capable of restoring stability in Egypt.
Egypt's military-installed leaders have even altered a road map envisaging the country's transition to democracy by announcing the holding of presidential election ahead of a legislative vote.
“I would have preferred a presidential election comprising civilian candidates to install a civilian democracy,” Alfred Raouf of the liberal Al-Dostour party told AFP.
“But I can understand that people want Sisi to be candidate, as given their security fears they want a strong man” to head the country.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, meanwhile, vowed to “step up” its attacks by also “targeting the economic interests of the regime, which comprises the gas pipeline to Jordan that sends billions of Egyptian pounds in the pockets of Sisi and his generals.”
It said it would “widen its economic war on (the) traitor clique until it defeats it”.
The Brotherhood, which renounced violence decades ago, has condemned these attacks, but that has not stopped it from being declared a terrorist organisation by the authorities.
Morsi himself was in a Cairo court room on Tuesday to face new charges of breaking out of prison.
He was defiant and insisted he was still was the “president” of Egypt, amid chants of “Down with the military!” from his co-defendants.
Morsi so far faces four trials, including two which are still to begin. - Sapa-AFP