Egypt Probe Seeks Ties to 2004 Blasts

Mourners light candles in front of Ghazala Gardens Hotel in Sharm el-Sheikh, one of the sites of Saturday's bombings. Others left bouquets at the site.
Mourners light candles in front of Ghazala Gardens Hotel in Sharm el-Sheikh, one of the sites of Saturday's bombings. Others left bouquets at the site. (By Uriel Sinai -- Getty Images)
By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 25, 2005

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, July 24 -- Investigators probing Egypt's worst terrorist attack believe that three men, one of them still possibly at large, carried out the series of bombings in this Red Sea resort, and have determined that the explosives were similar to those used in an attack at another resort in the Sinai Peninsula last year, a senior official said Sunday.

The attackers delivered the explosives in two small green Isuzu pickups early Saturday, said Brig. Hossam Serafi, the chief of investigations for South Sinai, which covers Sharm el-Sheikh. He said he believed the assailants had intended to bomb another hotel, the 292-room Iberotel Grand Sharm, but were stopped at a checkpoint, and instead detonated the explosives in a busy arcade of shops. He said the layout of that hotel bore resemblances to that of the Ghazala Gardens Hotel, whose facade was sheared off in one of Saturday's blasts.

"I believe that the market was not the target, but that's my conclusion," he said.

A day after the three blasts killed as many as 88 people, shattering a seaside city that was the Egyptian equivalent of a boomtown on the tip of the Sinai Peninsula, Serafi said he and other investigators were focusing their probe on possible links with the bombings on Oct. 7, 2004, at the Taba Hilton, near Egypt's border with Israel, and two beaches farther south.

Those bombings killed 34 people -- at the time, the worst terrorist attack in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Investigators had blamed the 2004 bombings on a cell led by a Palestinian resident from the northern Sinai town of El Arish and discounted connections to any broader network. The investigation led to the arrest of 3,000 people in a campaign that prompted widespread charges of police abuse and torture. Under heavy security, two of the men blamed for those attacks went on trial in Egypt on Saturday.

"It's similar to Taba," Serafi said. "There have been some figures on the run since the Taba explosions."

He said investigators believed the trail might again lead to El Arish, on the Sinai's Mediterranean coast, a suggestion that Egypt's interior minister, Habib Adli, had made the day before. "There's a direction that points toward Arish," he said.

If true, the attacks Saturday on a luxury hotel, an arcade of shops and a parking lot along Naama Bay would demonstrate a remarkable degree of coordination and resources for a homegrown cell. Serafi said that like the explosions in Taba, pickup trucks were used, the blasts were spaced just minutes apart and the "method of carrying it out" was similar. The explosives in Saturday's attacks, however, were mixed with nails to maximize casualties, unlike the bombs used last year in Taba.

The explosives used Saturday were gathered and assembled in Egypt, Serafi said, then brought to Sharm el-Sheikh along desert paths through the Sinai, much of it rugged, barren mountains intersected by ravines and canyons known best by Bedouins.

The bombs were detonated in succession after 1 a.m. Saturday. The first blast, in a pickup truck driven by a suicide bomber, left a crater 10 feet wide and about three feet deep in the middle of a street that passed a two-story shopping mall and an arcade of shops, as well as cafes packed with owners who had just closed their shops. The second, also a suicide bomb, plowed into the reception area of the Ghazala Gardens Hotel, collapsing its roof, Serafi said.

The third, apparently carried by the person who is still at large, followed minutes later. Smaller than the others, the explosive device was left in a suitcase, police said. It detonated down the street in a parking lot for taxis, as terrified tourists and residents fled the second bombing, some trying to find cabs to go home.

So far, two groups have asserted responsibility. On an Internet site, one of them identified itself as the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, al Qaeda in Syria and Egypt, the same group that asserted responsibility for the Taba bombings. The other was a previously unknown group that called itself the Mujaheddin of Egypt, which faxed its assertion of responsibility to newspapers.

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