Blasts in Egypt Kill at Least 83

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 23, 2005; 8:53 AM

CAIRO, July 23  -- At least three explosions Saturday ripped through the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, one of Egypt's most popular tourist destinations, killing at least 83 people and wounding 200 more, police and witnesses said.

Residents reached by telephone said the explosions, at least one detonated by a car bomb, were audible miles away. They shattered windows and unleashed pandemonium in the resort, which is crowded with Israeli, European and Egyptian tourists in the hot summer months. Residents said fireballs shot into the nighttime sky, followed by white and gray smoke that hovered over buildings, which sit along the scenic southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula.

In a statement late Saturday morning, the Interior Ministry said 65 people were killed and 200 wounded in three explosions. A hospital official later said a total of 83 people had been confirmed dead, according to the Associated Press.

"It's a mess," Mohammed Abbas, who lives near one of the bombing sites, said by phone. "My first impression when I saw the smoke coming from the hotel was that a boiler had exploded. It was so strong. All the glass of the shops and offices were destroyed."

The first explosion struck about 1 a.m. in the resort's Old Market, a place of shops and tourist attractions still crowded late at night, residents and the ministry said. The second struck a few minutes later at the Ghazala Gardens Hotel, a 176-room resort in Naama Bay, and a third explosion tore through a parking lot in the same area, the ministry and witnesses said.

There were conflicting accounts on other explosions. Residents said a blast also struck near the Moevenpick Hotel, and news agencies quoted officials as saying there may have been as many as seven explosions, in what would mark a coordinated campaign in a country that has put a high priority on ensuring security for its lucrative tourist industry.

"The explosions went off one after the other for about 15 minutes," Noha Gaafar, a tourist in Naama Bay, near the Ghazala Gardens Hotel, said in an interview with the Arab network al-Jazeera.

The Ghazala Gardens Hotel appeared to be the hardest hit, with the blast striking its facade and spilling debris into the street. Residents said they believed the blast was caused by a car bomb parked in front of the hotel, near the reception area.

"It's still standing, but the area facing the street is really destroyed," Abbas said.

Residents said the blast that struck the Moevenpick came from a side street. It also was apparently caused by a car bomb but inflicted less damage, they said. The ministry did not confirm that explosion. News agencies quoted police officials as saying that 17 people, all of them Egyptians, were killed at the Old Market as they sat at a crowded outdoor coffee shop.

After the blasts, police flooded into the streets, busy on a weekend night. Ambulances with sirens blaring ferried the wounded to hospitals, and police blocked ways in and out of the resort. The cell phone network in the resort soon became overburdened, adding to anxiety as people found it difficult to call and find out what was going on.

"People panicked and started running away," Abbas said. "There was smoke everywhere. You could see it from any hotel."

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