LONDON — An apparent attempt to bomb the American Embassy in Cairo failed on Tuesday when an explosive detonated prematurely in the backpack of a would-be attacker, the Egyptian government said in a statement. No one was injured.
It was the latest reminder of the continuing threat to Western interests from the simmering unrest in Egypt that began after a military takeover five years ago. The Egyptian military is still battling to extinguish a militant insurgency centered in the North Sinai.
In a statement released through the state-owned news media, the government said that the police had arrested Abdullah Ayman Abdel-Samie, 24, after a plastic bottle containing flammable chemicals exploded in his bag as he made his way across Simon Bolivar Square toward the embassy compound. The device was intended for “hostile action” and the suspect appeared to “embrace extremist ideas,” the statement said.
A diplomat in the embassy said the explosion had been so small that no one there heard it or stopped working.
A video that appeared to come from a street-level security camera and was circulated by Egyptian and international news media showed a small explosion knock down a young man with a backpack as he walked by a cement barrier erected near the square. Another video published by state-owned Egyptian news organizations showed police officers removing the man’s pants and escorting him away.
At around 1 p.m., the American Embassy said in a statement that “we are aware of a reported incident on Simon Bolivar Street.” It said people should “exercise caution” and stay away from the area.
About an hour later, the embassy announced that the “police have finished their investigations” and said, “the embassy is resuming normal business.”
The would-be bomber’s exact target and motives could not be determined.
Many Egyptians see the United States as a mainstay of support for President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former defense minister who seized power in the summer of 2013. Washington tacitly accepted his takeover by declining to label it a military coup, and has continued to provide Egypt $1.3 billion a year in military aid.
Since taking office, President Trump has praised Mr. Sisi as “a fantastic guy” who “really took control” when he took over Egypt.
The number of attacks on Egyptian security forces, civilian businesses and diplomatic facilities in the Nile Valley has subsided greatly from its peak in 2014 and 2015. But the Egyptian military is still conducting the latest in a long series of military campaigns aiming to eradicate the militants from their base in the rocky deserts of the North Sinai.
The government has consistently told Western diplomats that there were fewer than a thousand militants, almost all in the North Sinai.
But in the five years since Mr. Sisi took power, the Egyptian security forces have claimed to kill more than 6,970 militants in counterterrorism operations, according to a tally by the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, a research group in Washington. More than 24,900 have reportedly been arrested and accused of affiliating with extremist groups.
The militants, who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, have nonetheless succeeded in extending their deadly attacks, which include a series of attacks on Christians and churches as well as the killing last November of more than 300 civilians at a mosque associated with Sufism.
David D. Kirkpatrick reported from London, and Mohamed Ezz from Cairo.