The attack was as ruthless as it was efficient. Major-General Raouf Khayrat was leaving home in his white Peugeot scarcely 200m from the main Pyramids road in the suburb of Giza just before 10pm on Saturday, when a motorbike and a yellow Mitsubishi drove alongside his car. Two men on the bike and three in the car opened fire and tossed a grenade into the Peugeot, turning it into an inferno. Gen Khayrat was travelling alone, without a security escort - the result, according to one detective, of the general's decision to lower his 'profile' and reduce the chances of an ambush.
Within minutes, hundreds of police converged on the scene, slapping journalists as their colleagues removed the shrivelled corpse of their commander. Gen Khayrat was married with two sons and a daughter, a career officer of 48 whose death will have been a personal blow to President Mubarak. Not only was Gen Khayrat leading the vanguard of the President's forces against el-Gamaat el-Islamiya (Islamic Group) and other movements; his father, Major General Abdul-Hamid Khayrat, had been a personal security adviser to the President and a former governor of Sohag, one of the most insurrectionist provinces in upper Egypt.
There was no official explanation as to why the general should have left his home alone; so devastated were the authorities by his murder that they released no details of his funeral for fear that publicity would emphasise the damage his death had caused to the government's security apparatus. Gen Khayrat's official title was deputy chief of state security intelligence. From his headquarters in Lazoughly Square in the heart of Cairo - where former prisoners have given consistent evidence of torture at the hands of the police - the general ran a security apparatus that was both feared and loathed by the violent Islamic opponents of the government.
The attack also marked the return of the rebels to Cairo; since December, when an Austrian tour bus was attacked in the capital, violence has been confined to upper Egypt - where it continued yesterday with the murder of a plain- clothes policeman. Not long after he was shot in the town of al-Kussia near Assiut, police arrested 16 young men for 'interrogation' in the town, a process which is usually as brutal as it is unproductive. Such methods had failed to warn police in Cairo that the Islamic rebels whom Gen Khayrat was supposed to destroy would kill him first.