Fears have been running high over an Islamist backlash to Morsi’s overthrow. Extremist Islamist groups that gained considerable freedom to operate during Morsi’s year in office have already vowed violence in retaliation.
The first major militant attack came before dawn Friday in the tumultuous Sinai Peninsula, killing at least one soldier. Masked assailants launched a coordinated attack with rockets, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns on the airport in the northern Sinai city of el-Arish, where military aircraft are located. Also hit was a security forces camp in Rafah on the border with Gaza, and five other military and police posts.
One of military’s top commanders, Gen. Ahmed Wasfi, arrived at el-Arish to lead operations there as the army declared a “war on terrorism” in Sinai. A crowd of Morsi supporters tried to storm the governor’s office in the city but were dispersed by security forces.
On the night of Morsi’s ouster, jihadi groups rallied in el-Arish, vowing to fight. “War council, war council,” a speaker shouted, according to online video of the rally. “No peacefulness after today.”
Islamic militants hold a powerful sway in the lawless northern Sinai. They are heavily armed with weapons smuggled from Libya and have links with militants in the neighboring Gaza Strip, run by Hamas. After the attack, Egypt indefinitely closed its border crossing into Gaza, sending 200 Palestinians back into the territory, said Gen. Sami Metwali, director of Rafah passage.
At the Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque rally earlier in the day, the crowd filled much of a broad boulevard, vowing to stay until Morsi is reinstated. The protesters railed against what they called the return of the Mubarak regime.
“The old regime has come back ... worse than before,” said Ismail Abdel-Mohsen, an 18-year-old student at the mosque rally. He described the interim president as “the military puppet.”