Masked gunmen opened fire on an army bus in Cairo on Thursday, killing one soldier and wounding three in a rare attack on troops in the Egyptian capital, security officials and a military spokesman said.
The bus, which belongs to the army's Military Police, was driving through the capital's Amiriyah district when it was targeted, the security officials said. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, did not say who was responsible for the attack, which bore the hallmarks of Islamic militants.
But the armed forces spokesman, Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali, blamed the Muslim Brotherhood — the country's leading Islamist group from which ousted President Mohammed Morsi hails — for the early morning attack.
Witnesses speaking to the private CBC news network said the attack was carried out by four gunmen on two motorbikes, who sprayed the bus with gunfire as they approached it from opposite directions.
In the eight months since Morsi's ouster by the military after just one year in office, militants have targeted the army and police forces in Cairo and elsewhere in the country, often using motorbikes or suicide bombers. Attacks in Cairo have mostly targeted policemen.
The most high-profile assaults so far include an attempted assassination on the Egyptian interior minister in September in Cairo and an attack on the Egyptian capital's police headquarters in January, which killed at least five people and caused extensive damage to the nearby Islamic Museum. The interior minister, Mohammed Ibrahim, escaped unharmed but one bystander was killed and more than 20 people were wounded in the bombing.
Most of the deadly bombings have been claimed by a radical, al-Qaida-inspired group called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or Champions of Jerusalem.
The militants are also waging a full-fledged insurgency in the northern part of the strategic Sinai Peninsula, a vast desert area bordering the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and Israel.
Egypt's military-backed interim government has accused the Brotherhood — which rose to power following the ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak — of orchestrating much of the violence and has declared it a terrorist organization. The Brotherhood denies the charges, insisting it is pursuing peaceful means to reinstate Morsi.
The authorities have cracked down on the Brotherhood since Morsi's ouster following mass protests against his rule, but have put forward little evidence linking the group to the attacks. At least 2,000 have been killed in the crackdown and many more are in jail, including Morsi and most of the Brotherhood's top leaders.
In a separate development on Thursday, the former chief of staff of the Egyptian armed forces, Gen. Sami Anan, declared that he would not run for president, as the public had anticipated.
The announcement leaves a leftist politician as the only serious candidate to run against the nation's military chief, Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, in the vote, expected in April.
"I have taken the decision not to be a candidate in the presidential election and that is in the higher interests of the nation and out of the realization of the dangers surrounding it," Anan, the former army chief of staff, told a news conference.
Anan played a key role in running Egypt when army generals took power for nearly 17 months after Mubarak was toppled in a popular uprising in 2011. Morsi retired him in 2012, only himself to be ousted nearly a year later by el-Sissi.
Anan's announcement has no impact on the race since he is not thought to have any significant popular support. The vote is widely expected to be a landslide win by el-Sissi, who has yet to formally announce whether he will run. Still, Annan's decision protects the image of the military as unanimously behind el-Sissi.
With Anan out of the race, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi will likely be el-Sissi's only significant rival. Sabahi finished a strong third in presidential elections held in June 2012.