As the death toll rose sharply to 88 in Egypt's worst terrorist attack, officials began investigating Saturday whether the three bombings that struck a luxury hotel, a crowded market and a parking lot in this booming Red Sea resort bore a relationship to another attack in the Sinai Peninsula last year, officials said.
Security forces fanned out through the subdued city, one of Egypt's most popular tourist destinations, after the two car bombings and another attack took place in quick succession in the early morning and cut swaths of destruction through a holiday destination teeming with Egyptian, European and Israeli tourists. Under intense security, President Hosni Mubarak and other senior officials visited Sharm el-Sheikh, a sign of the grave implications the attack could portend for the country's vital tourism industry.
"This cowardly, criminal act is aimed at undermining Egypt's security and stability and harming its people and its guests," Mubarak said in a brief, live televised address to the country. "This will only increase our determination in chasing terrorism.
"We will not give in to its blackmail or seek a truce," he said.
Interior Minister Habib Adli suggested that there were possible links between the attack and a series of bombings on Oct. 7, 2004, at the Taba Hilton, near Egypt's border with Israel, and two beaches farther south. Those attacks killed 34 people -- until then, the worst episode of terrorism in Egypt.
"We have some clues investigators are pursuing," Adli told reporters.
U.S. officials said they, too, were looking at the Taba attacks but cautioned that the inquiry had barely begun.
"We see more connections to October than anything else," one U.S. official said.
The ability of attackers to carry out two major strikes in the Sinai Peninsula, which the Egyptian government goes to great lengths to secure, could augur a new chapter in the government's fight with Islamic extremists. In the 1990s, Egypt wrestled with a stubborn insurgency, which culminated in the massacre of 58 tourists and four Egyptians in 1997 at an ancient temple near the tourist town of Luxor, in southern Egypt. But within a year, the insurgency had diminished, and Egyptian officials often point to their success in combating it, although human rights groups condemned abuses by security forces and the detentions of thousands in the fight.
A group citing ties to al Qaeda asserted responsibility for Saturday's attacks, which devastated an arcade of shops and cafes in Sharm el-Sheikh and the Ghazala Gardens Hotel in Naama Bay, at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula.
"Your brothers succeeded in launching a crushing blow on the Crusaders, Zionists and the infidel Egyptian regime in Sharm el-Sheikh," said a statement posted on a Web site by a group calling itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, al Qaeda in Syria and Egypt. "We reaffirm that this operation was in response to the crimes committed by the forces of international evil, which are spilling the blood of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Chechnya."
The brigades were one of two radical Islamic groups that asserted responsibility for the Taba bombings. The group also asserted responsibility for a bombing in Cairo in April.
Hours later, though, the Associated Press reported that a previously unknown group calling itself the Holy Warriors of Egypt faxed a statement discounting the al Qaeda claim and saying that it had carried out the attack Saturday. It listed the names of the five people it said were bombers. The authenticity of the statements could not be verified.
In Sharm el-Sheikh, officials raised the death toll to 88, with at least 119 injured. Most of those killed were Egyptian, but the Tourism Ministry said at least seven foreigners had died, including a Czech and an Italian. The injured included nine Italians, five Saudis, three Britons, a Russian, a Ukrainian and an Israeli Arab, the ministry said.
The British Embassy said at least seven Britons were hurt.
By midday, rescue workers had given up the search for survivors, some of whom may have been buried under the rubble of the hotel. Helmeted security forces cordoned off the sites, as heavy machinery began removing debris.
The resort's streets, usually festive with the sounds of infectious Arabic pop music and packed cafes and restaurants, grew somber, with the quiet that comes after devastation and in respect for the dead. Their bags packed, some tourists began leaving the city, and extra flights were added to ferry them out. Tourist haunts were mostly deserted, as Koranic recitation wafted over a few streets.
"The city is destroyed," said Shawqi Futuh, 25, a barber whose store was near the bombing in the Old Market.
Under a broiling sun, vendors swept shattered glass that caught the sun's glint, and a few tourists walked through shopping arcades.
"Initially we were freaked out, but you can't be frightened, you must go on," said Pauline Charnock, 52, a British tourist, who chose to stay. "We'd come back to Sharm el-Sheikh. After all, it isn't more dangerous than England."
The bombings demonstrated a degree of coordination, occurring within minutes of each other at a time when streets and nightspots were still crowded. Police said the deadliest attacks -- on the Ghazala Gardens and the arcade in the Old Market -- were unleashed by car bombs. The third appeared to be a bomb left in a bag or suitcase near a parking lot along Naama Bay.
The worst destruction was visited on the hotel, whose white concrete facade was sheared away. A taxi driver, Ahmed Saleh, 27, said he had seen a brown car with a license plate from Taba barrel into a barricade along the hotel's driveway, hitting two guards. It then smashed into the hotel's entrance before detonating, pancaking the roof of the reception into the floor.
"The whole ceiling flew into the air and came down again," said Amr Abou el-Fath, a 39-year-old resident who was about 150 yards away from the hotel. "All the glass was shattered where we were sitting, and we saw debris flying. Everyone panicked."
At the Old Market, the blast gutted store fronts along both sides of the street, spraying debris across a swath 100 yards long. Bags for body parts lay on the glistening asphalt. Along the sidewalk were strewn shoes, water bottles and pieces of water pipes. Chairs were still overturned at cafes, tossed amid tourist trinkets, spilled spices, fruit rotting in the sun and an advertisement for Friends Coiffure, a hair salon. The carriage of a car, crumpled like paper, was flipped on its side against the curb, next to singed minivans.
"I'll take my things from the shop and start over," said Khaled Saad, who owns a jewelry workshop. "What else can I do?"
Condemnations were issued by world leaders already unsettled by bombings in London, from the pope to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. The White House called the attacks "barbaric" and said President Bush had spoken to Mubarak and offered help for the victims and in "bringing the perpetrators of these acts to justice." The British ambassador, Derek Plumbly, said a team of consular officials and police were scheduled to arrive Saturday night.
Sharm al-Sheikh is the equivalent of an Egyptian boomtown, growing over a generation from a sleepy seaside village into one of the world's premier tourist destinations. It has hosted international and Israeli-Palestinian summits, and Mubarak maintains a winter home here. Most tourists are European and Israeli, and in recent weeks, a surge of Israeli Arabs had come to the resort.
In the city, residents sought to cast blame -- on everyone from Al Qaeda to Israel. Others directed their anger at the United States and at their own government for not guaranteeing security.
"There is no justice, there is no fairness in the world. What happened here happens in Iraq several times every day. It happens in London, it happens in Beirut, it happens in Afghanistan," said Mohammed Shugaa, a 32-year-old civil engineer. "All these are innocent people. Who's responsible for the innocent people? What's their sin? What have they done? They've done nothing."
Special correspondent Nagwa Hassaan in Sharm el-Sheikh and staff writer Dafna Linzer in Washington contributed to this report.