M A I N   N E W S

Terror, now in Egypt
Car bombs leave 88 dead, 200 injured
Tom Perry

Tourists carry their belongings as they leave a hotel in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt
Tourists carry their belongings as they leave a hotel in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt on Saturday.
— Reuters photo

Sharm el-Sheikh, July 23
At least 88 persons were killed and 200 injured when car bombs ripped through shopping and hotel areas in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh today in the worst attack in Egypt since 1981.

Shaken European tourists spoke of mass panic and hysteria as people fled the carnage in the early hours, with bodies strewn across the roads, people screaming and sirens wailing.

The regional governor said two car bombs and possibly a suitcase bomb exploded at the resort, popular with divers and European holidaymakers, as well as diplomats who have convened world summits.

One blast tore the front off Ghazala Gardens Hotel in Naama Bay, the site of most of the resort’s luxury hotels. People were feared trapped in the rubble of the lobby.

A car broke into the hotel compound and exploded in front of the building, South Sinai Governor Mustafa Afifi said.

“There was a huge ball of smoke that mushroomed up. It was mass hysteria,” Charlie Ives, a London policeman on holiday, told the BBC.

Abdel Fattah, head of the ambulance service in Sharm el-Sheikh, said the emergency services had 62 complete bodies and parts identifiable as coming from 21 others.

A senior security source said 23 persons were in critical condition from among 35 casualties taken to Cairo for treatment.

Most of the victims were Egyptians but the Tourism Ministry spokeswoman said seven non-Egyptians were dead, including a Czech and an Italian, and 20 were injured.

The injured foreigners were nine Italians, five Saudis, three Britons, a Russian, a Ukrainian and an Israeli Arab, spokeswoman Hala el-Khatib told reporters.

But the British Foreign Office in London said eight Britons were injured.

A group claiming links to the Al-Qaida said it carried out the bombings in retaliation for “crimes committed against Muslims”, according to an Internet statement.

The statement, which was not carried on major Al-Qaida web sites, was signed by the Abdullah al-Azzam Brigades of the Al-Qaida in the Levant and Egypt. It was not possible to authenticate the claim.

Egyptian Interior Minister Habib el-Adli said it was too early to say whether the Al-Qaida or other Islamist groups had any connection with the bombings but there was a possible link with attacks further north last October.

In the October bombings, 34 persons were killed, most of them at the Taba Hilton on the Israeli border.

Egyptian authorities had blamed them on a Palestinian leading an unaffiliated group. Last month, Israel stepped up warnings to its own citizens, saying the risk of another such attack had risen.

Security sources said at least one car that blew up had special plates indicating it had come over the Israeli border at Taba on the Sinai peninsula.

Ahmed Mustafa, a waiter at a coffee shop near the first of the explosions, said a massive fireball tore through the car park outside a shopping mall in the resort around 3.30 am.

The explosion turned cars into skeletons of twisted metal, blew down masonry on nearby buildings and shattered windows for hundreds of metres around.

Officials said a car had exploded there but an eyewitness said a man had walked into a crowd with a large travel bag and announced in Egyptian Arabic: “I have a bomb”.

An emergency services official said many wounded were Egyptian workers gathered at a cafe in the old market. Seventeen of the dead were burnt beyond recognition.

Sharm residents said they heard two more explosions coming from Naama Bay in quick succession, blasts that could be felt 10 km away.

Witnesses said the first of these hit the hotel and the second a taxi rank.

The blasts came at a time when many tourists were in bars and markets in the popular and hitherto safe resort.

Leaders from around the world sent condolences and expressed their anger over the attacks. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was in the Middle East meeting with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, called bombings “horrific”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a telegram to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak: “International terrorism is trying to make the civilised world live in a state of fear and violence.”

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero called for more international cooperation to combat terrorism. — Reuters

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