Prosecutor's death a blow to Egypt's Sisi

Firefighters at the scene of the car bombing on Monday that killed Mr Hisham Barakat in Cairo as he drove to work on Monday.
Firefighters at the scene of the car bombing on Monday that killed Mr Hisham Barakat in Cairo as he drove to work on Monday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
State prosecutor Hisham Barakat is the most senior official in Egypt to be killed since the insurgency began in 2013, after the military ousted Mohamed Mursi as president.
State prosecutor Hisham Barakat is the most senior official in Egypt to be killed since the insurgency began in 2013, after the military ousted Mohamed Mursi as president.

More violence expected as govt, militants react to the killing; President seeks speedier trials

CAIRO • The daylight assassination of Egypt's top prosecutor, who was killed by a car bomb triggered remotely as he drove to work on Monday, is being seen as a blow to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who rose to power on a promise to restore stability after years of political tumult.

It represented a broadening of the violent insurgency against the government that militants have been waging for two years. The prosecutor, Mr Hisham Barakat, was the most senior official to be killed in Egypt since the insurgency began in 2013, after the military ousted the country's first freely-elected president, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr Sisi, appearing visibly upset at Mr Barakat's funeral, said yesterday that neither the courts nor the law "in their current form" will work. The nation cannot afford to wait for years for death sentences to be implemented after being handed down, he said.

"The hand of justice is tied" by current laws, Mr Sisi said, during a full military funeral for Mr Barakat. The laws will be amended "within days" to allow for speedier trials, he said.

Monday's attack appeared to set Egypt on a course for more violence. The killing of Mr Barakat was seen as likely to embolden the militants while prompting an even more forceful response from the security services. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

As one of the nation's most prominent judicial officials, Mr Barakat was a focal point for militant groups vowing retaliation for the prosecutions of hundreds of Muslims and the death sentences handed down against senior Brotherhood leaders, including Mursi.

An Egyptian militant group affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) posted a video on Sunday that appeared to threaten more attacks against the judiciary.

The group, which calls itself Sinai Province, included images that appeared to show an attack in May that killed several judges.

The three-minute video also included brief images of several other prominent judges, including one who sentenced Mursi to death.

But analysts said the bombing on Monday might have been the work, instead, of one of a number of militant groups that have surfaced in the last year.

The emergence of these groups, with names like Revolutionary Punishment, have added to longstanding fears in Egypt that Muslims and other opponents of the government would turn to violence in response to the authorities' crackdown.

The rise of the new groups coincided with a shift in the insurgen- cy's focus: After nearly two years of attacks mainly against the security services, killing hundreds of soldiers and police officers, the militants have broadened their targets to include civilian officials in the judiciary.

It marks "a pretty serious escalation", said Mr Michael Wahid Hanna, an Egypt expert with the New York-based The Century Foundation think-tank.

The explosion raised troubling questions about the government's security measures, which failed to protect one of its most vulnerable officials even though militants had attempted similar attacks before. In September 2013, Mr Mohamed Ibrahim, who was interior minister at the time, survived a bomb attack on his convoy in Cairo.

Mr Sisi's government has blamed Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood for the violence and pledged to eradicate the group, once Egypt's largest political movement.

NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2015, with the headline 'Prosecutor's death a blow to Egypt's Sisi'. Print Edition | Subscribe