Egypt’s top public prosecutor has been killed in a powerful bombing that hit his convoy in Cairo following jihadist calls for attacks on the judiciary to avenge a crackdown on Islamists.
The health ministry and senior officials including justice minister Ahmed al-Zind said that Hisham Barakat died in hospital several hours after the Monday morning bombing in the upscale district of Heliopolis in east Cairo.
Mr Barakat, 64, was the most senior government official killed since jihadists launched an insurgency following the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
His assassination will come as a blow to president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief who overthrew Morsi and won elections pledging to wipe out Islamist militants.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
The bomb destroyed several cars and blew out storefront windows, reporters at the scene said.
At least five vehicles were completely gutted in the explosion.
Health ministry spokesman Hossam Abdel Gaffar said eight people were wounded in the blast, including two civilians and five policemen guarding Mr Barakat.
The attack came a day before the second anniversary of the mass protests that prompted the military to oust Morsi.
The presidency said it was cancelling celebrations to mark the anniversary of the protests and Morsi’s overthrow on July 3.
In a statement, the presidency pledged that the “perpetrators of this terrible crime will be punished most severely”.
At the hospital, a bruised bodyguard recounted to prosecutors how the blast hit Mr Barakat’s convoy as it headed to his office.
“There was a massive blast all of a sudden,” he said.
“There was glass flying everywhere. It was as if there was an earthquake.”
Witnesses at the scene of the blast said one of the charred vehicles had belonged to the prosecutor.
“I heard a loud explosion and ran to the site. Barakat’s car was on fire,” witness Shaama Abdel Fattah said.
Mr Barakat died of organ failure caused by his severe wounds, a doctor who treated him said.
A prosecutor investigating the attack said that Mr Barakat was in an armoured car but that it was designed to protect him from bullets, not explosions.
Mr Barakat had been appointed after Morsi’s overthrow and was seen as a staunch opponent of the Islamist opposition, referring thousands to trial.
The bombing came after the Islamic State group’s affiliate in Egypt called for attacks on the judiciary following the hanging of six alleged militants.
Gunmen in the Sinai peninsula, where the jihadists are based, had shot dead two judges and a prosecutor in May.
The group released a video on Sunday purporting to show that attack in the north Sinai city of El-Arish.
Gunmen in a car pulled up to the van transporting the judges and sprayed it with rifle fire.