CAIRO – A group of young men firebombed a nightclub in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, following a dispute after two of them were not let in early Friday, setting of a blaze that killed 16 people and wounded three, authorities said.
This is another blow to the Egyptian tourism industry which is suffering after the downing of a Russian passenger plane and after Mexican tourists were mistakenly killed by security forces, alongside other mishaps in Egypt, as well as regional neighbour Tunisia.
Officials quickly denied speculation that the attacks had any terror connection. Egypt has been battling a growing Islamic insurgency, and a branch of the extremist Islamic State group has claimed many large-scale attacks across the country.
Interior Ministry spokesman Abu Bakr Abdel-Karim said police were looking for six people suspected in Friday’s attack, which came after two of them were banned from entering the club-and-eatery in Cairo’s Agouza district.
Known as the El Sayad restaurant, the establishment is not officially a nightclub but among scores of small local eateries that skirt taboos around drinking in this predominantly Muslim country by serving food and alcohol throughout the day, then turning into a bar overnight.
Alcohol is legal in Egypt but most restaurants and clubs don’t have liquor licenses and obtaining one involves a difficult bureaucratic procedure.
According to Abdel-Karim, the ministry spokesman, after the two men were not allowed to enter El Sayad, they “went and drank alcohol somewhere else, brought four others with them and came on three motorcycles at around 6 in the morning.”
“They then threw a Molotov cocktail at the entrance of the place,” Abdel-Karim said. “This caused the fire and the smoke and the 16 deaths.”
Eleven of the victims were staff and employees of the club, and one of the bodies is a woman, added Abdel-Karim. The identities of the five remaining victims – four women and one man – remained unknown.
He said no one who was inside the club, which was built from a converted underground garage, with only one narrow door leading to the outside, had survived.
However, three people were reportedly wounded, raising speculation they might have been passers-by or just outside the club.
The victims all died of suffocation, said Abdel-Karim, adding that people were trapped inside because the fire was located at the entrance of the club. “That was only one door, and the door is narrow and unfortunately also the place is one meter (three feet) underground,” he added.
Online video posted by newspaper Youm 7 showed thick black smoke pouring out of the doorway of El Sayad as onlookers milled outside unable to help. Flames torched the inside of the building and charred the entrance of the club, located on the ground level of an apartment building.