CAIRO — A senior Egyptian police officer was killed by a bomb placed under his car in a western Cairo suburb Wednesday, the latest in a series of targeted attacks on police and the military as Islamic militant groups keep up a campaign of violence since last summer's ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
Brig. Gen. Ahmed Zaki was the second police officer of that rank killed this month in a bombing, a sign of how the violence has shifted from high profile suicide and car bombings against police installation toward more low-level attacks on individual officers or small police posts.
Also Wednesday, a police lieutenant was killed in a gunbattle that erupted as security forces raided a militant hideout near the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria.
Al-Qaida-inspired militant groups have claimed responsibility for most of the attacks in the wave of violence that escalated after the military ousted Morsi in July. The groups have said their bombings and shootings are to avenge the fierce crackdown on Morsi's Islamist supporters in which more than 1,300 people have been killed and thousands arrested. The government says suspected militants have killed more than 450 policemen and soldiers in clashes and attacks since July, the government says. Police say of those 262 were policemen.
The government accuses Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood of orchestrating the violence, saying it is ultimately behind the militant groups, and declared it a terrorist organization late last year. The Brotherhood denies the claim, saying the terror brand aims to justify wiping it out as a political force.
There was no immediately claim of responsibility for Wednesday's killing, but the Interior Ministry pointed to the Brotherhood.
"The Egyptian police continues its determined and decisive confrontation in its battle against terrorism," ministry spokesman Hani Abdel-Latif said in a televised statement. It "will continue its efforts to face up to these terrorist operations that are plotted by the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood group."
The ministry said in a statement that the night before, it arrested a student affiliated with the Brotherhood who lives in Al-Azhar university dorms in possession of weapon after he fired at a police patrol.
Zaki was heading to work early Wednesday from his home in the Cairo suburb 6th of October when the bomb detonated under the police car assigned to transport him, wounding him critically. He later died in the hospital, Abdel-Latif said. Two conscripts were wounded in the attack.
Zaki is one of the most senior officers to be killed in the campaign of violence. He was in the leadership of the Central Security Forces, the riot police branch that takes the lead role in dealing with protests and general security.
A senior security official in Cairo said Zaki had sat through planning meetings for the Aug. 14 operation that broke up two pro-Morsi sit-ins in the capital, in which security forces killed more than 600 protesters. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
But Abdel-Latif dismissed the possibility that Zaki was targeted for any specific role he played, saying he is not aware of what his tasks involved. Speaking to The Associated Press, he said policemen are targets because they are the ones going after militants, and that attackers are mainly going after targets of opportunity among the police.
"They are targeting police force wherever they are," he said. "They make a homemade bomb and toss at police." He pointed out that traffic police have also been targeted and that recently even a civilian wearing a police-style beret had a bomb lobbed at his vehicle, apparently because the attackers thought he was a policeman.
Another brigadier general was killed on April 2 when three bombs were placed by a riot police post outside Cairo University, where protests by largely Morsi supporters have been regular and often bloody since the start of academic year in September.
A new group that first appeared in January, Ajnad Misr, or "Egypt's Soldiers," claimed responsibility for that bombing. In a statement, it said it was waging a campaign of retribution and that the slain police general had been involved in killings of protesters. It said the attack also came in response to increased detentions of female protesters.
In an audio recording posted Saturday, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri gave his blessings to attacks by militants on Egyptian police and army, advising operatives to avoid civilians and ensure the population is supportive of their moves.
Also Wednesday, in Egypt's second-largest city, Alexandria, Lt. Ahmed Saad was shot and killed during a raid on a militant hideout. Militants opened fire on the police as they moved on the hideout, in a farm area in Borg al-Arab, a western district on the Alexandria's outskirts, the city's police chief Police Maj. Gen. Amin Ezzedin told the state news agency MENA. He said one suspect was also killed and another arrested, and that two explosive belts, machine guns and homemade bombs were seized in the raid.
Abdel-Latif said two suspects were arrested and are believed to be members of Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, one of Egypt's main militant groups, which claimed responsibility for high profile attacks on Cairo security directorate this January and a failed assassination attempt on the minister of interior in September. Abdel-Latif said the cell was planning attacks on security forces.
On Sunday, gunmen killed a police captain and a conscript in a firefight on a desert road outside Cairo. And two days earlier, a bomb targeting a traffic post in a busy square in Cairo killed a policeman.
After that bombing, the main pro-Morsi coalition led by the Brotherhood issued a statement condemning the attack and suggested that security agencies were behind such attacks. The group praised police and soldiers, saying they should "study the situation, and they will find that these dirty operations are one of the tools of the coup administration" and aim to curb peaceful protests and ensure control over the country.