Egypt presidential hopeful attacked in carjacking

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By AYA BATRAWY, Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) — One of Egypt's top presidential hopefuls demanded police protection Friday after masked men stopped his car on the way back from a campaign event, beat him with the butt of an automatic rifle and stole his vehicle — an attack that many of his supporters fear may have been deliberate.

A lawmaker from the country's most powerful political party, the Muslim Brotherhood, also was wounded in a hit-and-run Friday.

The two incidents demonstrate the disintegration of security in the country in the wake of the uprising a year ago that toppled Hosni Mubarak. As the country prepares for presidential elections expected to be held by the end of June, they also raise the spectre of politically-motivated violence as the campaign heats up.

Masked gunmen attacked Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh late Thursday as he was returning to Cairo from a campaign event north of the capital, said campaign spokesman Ali Bahnasawy. Abolfotoh is a former leader in the Muslim Brotherhood who is running independently for president.

The attackers struck him three times in the head with the butt of an automatic rifle, beat his driver, and then drove off with his vehicle, Bahnasawy said.

Bahnasawy said Abolfotoh requested police protection on Friday, but has not yet been given any.

"The absence of Interior Ministry security around him after the incident is very strange and it's a big question mark," Bahnasawy told The Associated Press.

Campaign officials said the motive for the carjacking was not immediately clear, but suspected it might have been a targeted attack.

"We don't believe it's random, but we're not sure yet," Bahnasawy said.

Abolfotoh was on his way back from a rally in Menoufia, 40 miles (60 kilometers) north of Cairo, when he was attacked.

Bahnasawy said some people in Menoufia had asked questions about Abolfotoh's travel details before he left the event. He suffered a concussion, but was released from a Cairo hospital Friday, Bahnasawy said.

Once a reformist within the Brotherhood, which now controls nearly half of seats in parliament, Abolfotoh was expelled when he declared he would run in the presidential balloting. The Muslim Brotherhood said it would not field a candidate in the elections, in a move seen as an attempt to allay Western concerns of an Islamist takeover.

An Interior Ministry official said the main presidential candidates will soon be given security at their homes and on the campaign trail. He and other police officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not yet been publicly announced.

In the second incident, the Muslim Brotherhood said one of its members was attacked Friday. The Brotherhood has emerged as the country's most organized political force after decades of being banned from politics.

Security officials said Hassan al-Brince, who chairs the health committee in the newly-elected parliament, was driving in the northern province of Beheira when a large truck rammed into him and sped off. He was transferred to a nearby hospital, but is in stable condition, police said.

The committee that al-Brince chairs is at the center of one of the most heated discussions in Egypt about whether Mubarak should be moved from the elite military hospital where he's currently being held to a prison hospital.

The deputy head of the Brotherhood's political party, Essam el-Arian, said that attacks on political figures "suggest attempts to obstruct real change and the transfer of power to a new regime." He would not say who he thought were behind such attempts.

Police said they are investigating both incidents and searching for suspects.

Crime has been on the rise in post-Mubarak Egypt, but has focused mainly on personal robberies. Murders have been rare.

During the 18-day uprising, more than 23,000 prisoners were either let out or broke out of prison as the police force collapsed. Police blame most of the crime on roughly 5,000 escaped convicts who have yet to be caught.

While many blame the Interior Ministry for the deteriorating security over the past year, others see it as part of the failure by the ruling military council to steer the country through what was supposed to be a transition to democracy.

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