GOVERNMENT MEASURES AGAINST Muslim extremists suffered reversals in April. Officers and public officials were targetted by the extremists, culminating in the daylight assassination attempt against a cabinet minister. The Ministry of Interior, meanwhile, was rocked by the sudden replacement of Abdel Halim Mousa only one day after his public admission to having opened a dialogue with the terrorists.
The killing of a state security officer and his six-year old son in mid-March made newspaper headlines and earned nationwide revulsion. As security forces continued to search for the killers, police general Mohammed al Shaimi was assassinated on 11 April in the Upper Egyptian town of Abu Tig.
Al Shaimi, his bodyguard and his driver, were all gunned down in broad daylight. Security sources placed responsibility on the Islamic Jihad, calling the assassination an act of revenge for the killing of the Jihad's Assiut emir, Ahmed Zaki, during the previous month's police crackdown.
The murder of such a high ranking official, as well as the successful escape of his killers, left the nation stunned. Thousands of mourners attended Al Shaimi's funeral in what was the largest national protest against terrorism in recent years. Abdel Halim Mousa led the funeral procession. Days later he denounced the murderers to the People's Assembly, saying the attack came at a time when his ministry was engaged in dialogue with a group of independent Islamists mediating between the government and the extremists.
Mousa's surprise announcement met immediate criticism. The fact that government officials were prepared to negotiate with terrorists only buttressed critics' arguments that the regime was stumbling in its losing war against the extremists. An angry President Hosni Mubarak fired the minister the following day, replacing him with the governor of Assiut, Hassan al Alfi.
The new interior minister had scarcely two days in office before facing his first crisis when, on 20 April, assassins failed in an attempt on the life of the information minister, Safwat al Sharif. The noon attack took place in the upper-class Cairo suburb of Heliopolis at a vulnerable intersection near Al Sharif's house and only a few minutes drive from the homes of the president and prime minister. The ambush, obviously well-planned, was by far the most daring attack on a government official since the 1990 assassination of the parliamentary speaker, Rifaat al Mahgoub.
Al Sharif narrowly escaped death...