On a Calm Night, Suddenly, 'Everybody Was Running'

A policeman and shop owners look at a vehicle destroyed in the first of three blasts Saturday around Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
A policeman and shop owners look at a vehicle destroyed in the first of three blasts Saturday around Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. (By Amr Nabil -- Associated Press)
By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, July 24, 2005

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, July 23 -- It was a little after 1 a.m. when the sweltering summer day finally gave way to a breezy desert night, and the merchants of Egypt's premier Red Sea resort wrapped up business and headed for festive, 24-hour cafes.

Nasser Ali gathered the receipts at his tourist shop, Layali al-Hilmiya. Mohammed Eissa straightened the shelves in his stationery store. Sayyid Sayyid, cheerfully speaking broken English, finished cutting the hair of his last customer at Friends Coiffure.

In the 15 minutes that followed early Saturday, Sharm el-Sheikh, always a little more freewheeling and relaxed than the rest of Egypt, was transformed into an arcade of destruction as arbitrary as it was devastating. With three bombings, carefully coordinated under the cover of night, dozens of people were killed, many more were wounded, and businesses were wrecked. In the wake of grief, a city blessed by azure waters, some of the world's best coral reefs and the generosity of tourists, fell silent.

It began across the street from Ali, Eissa and Sayyid's workplaces.

"The building shook," Ali said. "I didn't know what it was. I asked God to make it anything except a bomb, but it was."

Detonated in a car parked in the middle of a street lined with jewelers, clothing and diving equipment stores, tourist traps, restaurants and cafes, the bomb carved a crater 10 feet wide and hurled debris 100 yards. All nearby windows were shattered and more than a dozen cars left charred, half mangled and singed white. Pools of blood mixed with grease and water.

"To the right, to the left, it was the same. Everywhere," said Samih Guindy, who worked across the street at his shop, Rodana Optics.

The bomb struck at a time when the streets of Sharm el-Sheikh's Old Market were teeming, most of the revelers Egyptians. Vendors were already in the cafes, sipping thick Turkish coffee and sweet tea and smoking water pipes.

There was a brief moment of silence after the blast; then, those who still could began to flee down the street, away from the smoke and fire.

"Everybody was running. Nobody could see anyone else. They were running into each other," Eissa recalled.

He described stumbling out of his shop to see a person whose stomach was torn open, his intestines spilling out. The man's right leg had been severed, cast aside. Nearby, Eissa's brother, 21-year-old Hani, lay on the curb, a gash across his face. Eissa wrapped his brother's arm over his shoulder and dragged him down the street to a taxi, which ferried them to Sharm el-Sheikh International Hospital.

Ali left his shop, littered with torn papyrus, plates of copper, tin and brass from the time of the pharaohs and boxes of inlaid mother-of-pearl that had been knocked off the shelves. Outside his door was a man whose arm had been blown off in the blast.

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