3 arrested in Egyptian resort bombings - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

3 arrested in Egyptian resort bombings

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Posted: Tuesday, April 25, 2006 6:00 am | Updated: 4:13 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

DAHAB, Egypt - Police arrested three people Tuesday in the triple bomb attack that ripped apart a Sinai beach resort promenade at the height of Egypt's tourist season, killing at least 24 people and injuring more than 60, many of them foreigners.

The arrests took place near the scene of Monday's bloody attack in the town of Dahab, but police did not immediately provide any further information, including whether the suspects were locals, or had connections with international terror groups.

The nearly simultaneous blasts were so powerful they blew out storefronts along the crowded promenade of shops, restaurants and bars and sent body parts flying into the nearby Gulf of Aqaba. Hours after the bombings, shards of glass lay in piles along with white tiles stained with bloody footprints.

The explosions came a day after Osama bin Laden issued a call to arms to Muslims to support al-Qaida in fighting what he calls a war against Islam.

It was also the third terror strike on a Sinai resort in less than two years to coincide with a national holiday in Egypt.

Hotels and guesthouses were filled with foreigners and with Egyptians celebrating the long Coptic Christian Easter weekend that coincided this year with Shem al-Nessim, the ancient holiday marking the first day of spring. The attacks also came a day before Sinai Liberation Day, a national holiday marking the return of the peninsula to Egypt from Israel as a result of the 1979 peace treaty.

The bombings hit Dahab at 7:15 p.m. when the streets were jammed with tourists strolling, shopping or looking for a restaurant or bar for evening festivities by the tranquil waters.

One of the bombs exploded outside a seaside restaurant called Al Capone, a popular dinner spot. A second bomb went off outside a supermarket and jewelry store. The third detonated at the entrance to a bridge.

Security forces were searching the wreckage for clues. It was not immediately known if the explosions were caused by suicide bombers or bombs on timers.

Outside the supermarket that was targeted, a tiny shoe covered in blood lay on top of a baby stroller. Moments before the attack, a woman who appeared to be European carried one of her twin infants into the store and left the other outside in the stroller, said Mohammed Emad, 16, who sells spices at the market.

The baby outside survived, but the other twin died and the mother was severely injured, Emad said. "I pushed the stroller away out of the doorway" after the blast, he said.

Another witness said tourists didn't know where to run as the blasts kept coming.

"I heard the first bomb, I started running. When I heard the second one, we were still running," said Johanna Sarjas, a journalist from Finland who was on vacation. "It was chaotic because we didn't know in which direction to run. You didn't know where the next bomb would come from."

Interior Minister Habib el-Adly put the death toll at 23, including 20 Egyptians and three foreigners. But Sinai hospital officials said Tuesday that an Egyptian man had died of his wounds, bringing the toll to 24. More than 60 people were wounded, including many Westerners.

One of the dead was a German child, according to the Egyptian Interior Ministry and the German Foreign Ministry. Police said one Russian and one Swiss were also killed, but el-Adly would not confirm those nationalities.

At least three Israelis were hurt in the attack, which sent a steady stream of cars back to Israel some 65 miles to the north. Israeli authorities said 1,800 of their citizens were in the Sinai at the time, far fewer than during last week's Passover holiday.

Israel's ambassador in Cairo, Shalom Cohen, said the Israeli government had warned repeatedly against visiting the Sinai. "Unfortunately, the warnings came true," he told Israel's Channel 10 TV.

Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas-run Palestinian Cabinet, called the bombings a "criminal attack which is against all human values. We denounce the attack, which harmed the Egyptian national security." By contrast, Hamas had refused to condemn last week's bombing that killed nine people in an Israeli fast-food restaurant.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose economy is heavily dependent on tourism, called the blasts a "sinful terrorist action."

President Bush also condemned the attacks. "Today we saw again that the terrorists are willing to try to define the world the way they want to see it," he said in Las Vegas. The European Union condemned the bombings as "despicable" and leaders across Europe said they were standing with the Egyptian government against terrorist attacks.

Terrorist attacks have killed nearly 100 people at several tourist resorts in the Sinai Peninsula in the past two years - all timed to coincide with major holidays in Egypt.

Bombings in the resorts of Taba and Ras Shitan, near the Israeli border, killed 34 people in October 2004, a day before a holiday marking the start of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Suicide attackers killed 64 people - mainly tourists - in an attack on the resort of Sharm el-Sheik last July. It happened on the day Egyptians commemorate the 1952 revolution overthrowing the king.

The Egyptian government has said the militants who carried out the previous bombings were locals without international connections, but other security agencies have said they suspect al-Qaida.

El-Adly said it wasn't immediately clear if Monday's attack could have been carried out by a group as organized as those who detonated the earlier bombs.

"The devices used were not of the types which would have caused big destruction," he said.

In Jerusalem, Brig. Gen. Elkana Har Nof, an official at the Israel prime minister's counterterrorism department, told Israel Radio that the Sinai coast is likely to continue being targeted, in part because it is a key link in Egypt's economy.

"The coast combines all the elements that are a target, especially for global jihad," he said.

He praised Egyptian officials for doing "an enormous job" of arresting many extremists after the last attacks, but said: "I don't think they cleaned out all of them, and new members have been drafted. And therefore Sinai remains a target."

In Washington, a U.S. counterterrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in compliance with office policy, said it was unclear who was behind Monday's attack. Officials there have not ruled out al-Qaida involvement, but have no evidence showing that is the case, the official said. Nor do they have any evidence that bin Laden's tape was linked to the attack.

Dahab, which means "gold" in Arabic, was for years a popular, low-key haven for young Western and Israeli backpackers drawn by prime scuba diving and cheap hotels. In recent years, a number of more upscale hotels have been built, including a five-star Hilton resort.

Those who work in the town fear the attacks will drive tourists away - for good.

"The scene out there was horrific," said Mohammed Gadallah, a 27-year-old Egyptian from the Nile Delta region who works at a hotel coffee shop near the bridge bomb.

"I don't know who could have done this - they are people who know no religion and have no conscious. We have left our homes and families and come here to make a living. ... It looks like we'll be going back home."

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