30 Are Killed in Sinai as Bombs Rock Egyptian Resort City

By MICHAEL SLACKMAN
Published: April 25, 2006
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/25/world/middleeast/25egypt.html?_r=2&th&emc=th&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

DAHAB, Egypt, Tuesday, April 25 Three blasts tore through Dahab, a crowded resort town on the Sinai Peninsula, on Monday night, killing at least 30 people and wounding more than 115.

The attack, the third at a popular Sinai resort in two years, once again raised the specter of one of the United States' closest allies in the Arab world facing a homegrown terrorist threat trying to destabilize the government.

There was confusion in the hours after the blasts, but what was clear was that this resort town on the Gulf of Aqaba, a quaint tourist spot frequented by back-packers and scuba divers, was awash in blood on one of the most popular holiday weekends of the Egyptian calendar.

It was the third time that terrorists struck near a national holiday. It is on this day that Egypt celebrates the anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from Sinai in 1982.

"I do not think it is a coincidence that this attack happens amid celebration of Sinai Liberation Day," the interior minister, Habib al-Adli, said on Egyptian television. "The other two attacks in Taba and Sharm el Sheik also took place during celebration of national occasions; that raises question marks.

"We will catch all those responsible very soon."

Egyptian authorities at first said the bombs appeared to have been detonated by remote control. Later a local official said the explosions appeared to be the work of suicide bombers. An investigator at the scene on Tuesday morning said that the bombs were all timed explosive packs, and that there was no evidence of suicide attackers.

The bombs started going off at about 7:15 p.m., in the center of the city, where the streets were packed with tourists also celebrating the Coptic observance of Easter on Sunday and the ancient Egyptian spring festival of Sham el Nessim.

The commerical strip of this tiny resort center stretches along the azure waters of the bay, and those who planted the bombs set their deadly packages from one end of the walkway to the other.

First hit was the Nelson Restaurant, then the Aladdin Cafe and then the Ghazala Supermarket, all within five minutes. The blasts were not huge, but large enough to spread destruction up and down the walks, which were stained with blood.

As survivors ran for cover, television images showed a grisly scene with charred body parts, and merchants trying to cover the blackened boardwalk with newspaper. Ambulances rushed in a procession from Cairo, more than six hours away, to help carry the wounded to hospitals.

"Bodies were everywhere," said Ahmed el Tabakh, who said he ran into the middle of the chaos moments after the blast near the supermarket. "We carried bodies until the government came."

The wounded were ferried by cars to the local hospital, and then to a larger hospital in Sharm el Sheikh, two hours away.

By morning, as the sun rose over the bay, people had begun to clean up the mess and sort through the rubble. The windows of shops catering to tourists with names like Lotus Flower and Mona Lisa were smashed.

Investigators worked carefully scooping up forensic evidence, sweeping ashes and charred debris into bags.

"With the sound of the explosion we thought it was Judgment Day," said Addal Ramadan, who was working in a mobile phone shop near the site of one of the blasts. He said he saw at least 30 people on the ground.

Officials said that the bombings did not appear to be sophisticated, and that the blasts did not appear as powerful as attacks in Taba in October 2004 and in Sharm el Sheikh in July 2005. The Taba attack killed 34 people and the Sharm el Sheikh bombing left at least 60 dead.

"Our initial investigation proved that this operation was not sophisticated, and the explosions were not very strong," said Mr. Adli, the interior minister. "The explosives were done in a very basic way."

Dahab, which means gold in Arabic, is more out of the way than the popular Sharm el Sheik or Taba. It is effectively two villages, a Bedouin village in the south and the administrative center in the north. Like other areas in the Sinai, Dahab remains popular among Israelis. Last week, many Israelis visited during the long Passover weekend, but most had left by Wednesday.

When terrorists first struck in 2004, the government said the attack appeared to be an extension of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. When bombers struck again in Sinai, the government acknowledged that the two attacks were linked, and that they had been carried out by residents of the northern Sinai. For months, Egypt's security forces chased suspected terrorists in the craggy mountains there.

Now Egypt is once again acknowledging a pattern, though officials said it is far too soon to determine if the three blasts on Monday were connected with the earlier attacks. The one in Taba occurred one day after a holiday commemorating the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war. The one in Sharm el Sheik occurred on July 23, or Revolution Day.

President Hosni Mubarak called the blasts a "sinful terrorist action" and vowed to track down those responsible.

In Washington, President Bush also condemned the attacks, as did the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas, the militant group that recently won control of the Palestinian government.

Early reports said that at least four foreigners had been killed in Dahab, along with many Egyptians.

Amr el-Choubaki, a military analyst with the government-financed Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said the three bombings in two years demonstrated that there are small, liked-minded if independent cells of terrorists operating in Egypt.

"Since Taba we are starting to see new clusters of cells that don't have a comprehensive project," he said. "They are cries of objection aiming to harm and pain the regime."

But he also said the attacks demonstrated a failure on the part of state security, which he says has focused too much of its energy on political opposition. "The security structure is distracted and busy confronting opposition parties, judges and journalists," he said, "and is not making combating terrorist organizations its primary goal."

The attack came one day after Al Jazeera television network broadcast an audiotape said to be of Osama bin Laden. There was no evidence that Mr. bin Laden or his Qaeda network was connected to the attacks.

Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting for this article.