JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — The Speaker of the Egyptian Parliament and three bodyguards were shot to death Friday outside a Cairo hotel, only days after security officials said they had taken a list of potential assassination targets from suspected pro-Iraqi terrorists.
Refaat Mahgoub, the second-most-powerful political figure in Egypt, was ambushed by four unidentified men with machine guns as he traveled in a motorcade to a meeting with a delegation of Syrians, authorities said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Officials speculated that the attack could have been the work of Muslim fundamentalists or terrorists opposed to the strong stand that Egypt has taken against Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and in support of the U.S. military deployment in Saudi Arabia.
"It could be an internal operation or an external one," Interior Minister Mohammed Abdel-Halim Moussa told reporters in Cairo.
The shooting came only two days after Moussa announced that suspected pro-Iraqi terrorists arrested in Egypt had been planning to assassinate senior Egyptian officials in order to cause chaos in the country.
"The terrorists have revealed secrets of the sabotage and terrorism plans they were planning to carry out against Egypt and the Egyptians," Moussa told the semi-official Cairo daily Al Ahram. "Those who sent them gave the illusion that there was a rift between the leadership and people of Egypt, but they were shocked to find there was no truth to this."
Egyptian security officials said last week that they had arrested up to 35 suspected Iraqi and Palestinian terrorists, including at least five followers of the notorious Abu Nidal terrorist organization. None has been publicly identified or formally charged.
President Hosni Mubarak said a week ago that Egypt had evidence that Iraq had sent teams to carry out terrorist attacks in Egypt.
Iraq, he said, "is pushing forces to create a state of instability for us, strike at some installations, throw some bombs . . . and to attack buses."
Mahgoub, 64, a professor of law and Speaker of Parliament since 1984, was a controversial figure. He was widely disliked among political opposition groups for his tough management of Parliament and his behind-the-scenes resistance to opening Egypt's electoral process to small, independent parties.
The assassination came less than two hours before the announcement of the results of a nationwide referendum on new national elections.
Some officials speculated that the assassination could have been the work of Muslim fundamentalists angered by the shooting death last month of Alaa Mohieddin, the official spokesman for Egypt's Gamaat Islamia, a radical fundamentalist group.
Mohieddin was shot down on a Giza street by unknown assailants. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights announced last month that it "seriously suspects the possibility" that the assassination occurred "at the hands of the state security forces."
Muslim fundamentalists were also suspected in an assassination attempt in mid-December against former Egyptian Interior Minister Zaki Badr, and they were responsible for the assassination in 1981 of President Anwar Sadat.
Friday's shooting occurred shortly before 11 a.m. as Mahgoub's Mercedes-Benz was passing the swank Semiramis Hotel on the east bank of the Nile. Moussa told reporters that four attackers on two motorcycles got off their cycles and opened fire with machine guns, hitting Mahgoub's car and another vehicle carrying his bodyguards.
Killed along with Mahgoub were three members of his security detail, including a police lieutenant colonel and a noncommissioned officer. Mahgoub's driver was shot in the arm but survived, authorities said. Two of the bodyguards killed were in Mahgoub's car, they said, and the third was in the car behind. Moussa's vehicle was about 300 yards back.
All four assailants, officials said, were in their early 20s and wearing Western-style clothing, with their automatic weapons concealed in bags. Some witnesses reported gunfire near the Ramses Hilton Hotel farther down the corniche, possibly a brief gunfight between the attackers and pursuing police.
Moussa said three of the gunmen escaped on their motorcycles and that the fourth ran into a densely populated area nearby and disappeared. The man on foot wounded two bystanders who tried to stop him.
A hand grenade and four homemade explosive devices were found on the roadside near the hotel, authorities said.
An Italian businessman who arrived at the scene moments after the attack said he "heard a lot of gunshots" and saw people running out of the Semiramis Hotel.
The businessman, who identified himself as Marco Semeria, said the windows were knocked out of Mahgoub's car and that several bodies were lying on the ground.
A man who witnessed the attack told Egyptian television that the attack appeared to be extremely professional. The assailants opened fire from in front and in back, and then one of them ran up to a window and fired into the car, he said.