Egyptian police storm second Islamist stronghold

Senior police officer killed in clashes between armed groups in Kerdasa and security forces backed by tanks and helicopters

Egyptian police have stormed a town on the edge of Cairo, the second Islamist stronghold to be retaken by Egyptian authorities in a week.

A senior police officer was killed in the clashes between armed groups in Kerdasa and security forces backed by tanks and helicopters early on Thursday, state media reported.

Situated on Cairo’s western fringes, Kerdasa was one of several Egyptian towns overrun by Islamist hardliners on 14 August, as supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi took revenge on police after the massacre by security forces of around 1,000 pro-Morsi demonstrators in Cairo earlier that day.

Kerdasa experienced some of the worst revenge attacks, in which the local police station was stormed, and 11 officers killed and mutilated. Mobile phone footage apparently taken by bystanders appeared to show one of the murdered officers stripped to his underwear, and others with their throats cut.

Thursday’s police assault on the town marks an attempt to reimpose order and round up some of the perpetrators. It also follows Monday’s retaking of Delga, a central Egyptian town that had been under Islamist control since 3 July, and where the local Christian minority had been subjected to a campaign of terror.

The Egyptian army is already fighting an extremist insurgency in the eastern Sinai peninsula, and some officials have painted this week’s assaults as an attempt to ward off the possibility of similar problems on the Egyptian mainland.

In recent weeks, terrorists unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Egypt’s interior minister in a bomb attack that injured more than 20 people. Security officials also claim to have thwarted several other bomb threats across the country.

On Thursday, parts of Cairo’s subway system were shut down after police said they had discovered a bomb on a line in the north-east of the capital.

In return, some Morsi supporters have condemned the anti-state violence, while others claim it is exaggerated – or at the very least provoked by the new government’s brutal crackdown on pro-Morsi demonstrators in Cairo. In Delga, local Islamists claimed the violence was carried out by apolitical criminals, and that the arrests of more than 50 Islamists following the re-taking of the town were made arbitrarily, without proper evidence.

Morsi’s ousting at the hands of the army on 3 July, and the subsequent crackdown on his supporters, has broad support across Egypt. But he is still backed by a significant minority of the population, particularly outside Cairo, while a small bloc of activists have voiced their opposition to both the army and the Muslim Brotherhood.

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