Israeli-Palestinian conflict motivated deadly hotel bombing, Egypt says

U.S., Israel believe attack was linked to al-Qaida

October 26, 2004|By Evan Osnos | Evan Osnos,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CAIRO - The worst terrorist attack in Egypt in seven years was organized by a Palestinian angered by Israeli policies, the Egyptian government said yesterday, announcing the first arrests in coordinated bombings that killed 34 people this month in the Sinai peninsula.

The Interior Ministry said a Palestinian driver and eight Egyptian accomplices used simple washing-machine timers, stolen cars and decades-old explosives to rig the car bomb that partly destroyed the Taba Hilton hotel, as well as two other bombs at nearby campgrounds. The resorts on the placid Red Sea coast were packed at the time with Israeli visitors at the end of a Jewish holiday.

The Egyptian description of the attacks as an operation rooted in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict contrasts with U.S. and Israeli officials' belief that the attacks bear the inspiration, if not direct involvement, of international Islamist militants.

The alleged organizer of the Oct. 7 blasts, Ayad Said Saleh, and another man were killed in the hotel bombing when timers detonated early, the Egyptian government said in a statement. Their remains were identified through DNA analysis. Five Egyptians, including local Bedouin tribesmen, have been arrested for their role in rigging the bombs and picking the targets, and two other Egyptians remain at large.

"The attack was in response to the escalating situation in the occupied territories and aimed at Israeli tourists," the Interior Ministry said in a statement, without explaining the basis for that conclusion.

That assessment contradicts statements by Israeli investigators whose inquiry suggests the well-coordinated bombings matched the sophistication of an al-Qaida-style assault of the kind witnessed in Turkey and Spain in the past two years. This theory reflects the growing sense among U.S., European and Arab intelligence agencies that al-Qaida has evolved into an ideology, rather than a distinct organization.

But Egyptian authorities yesterday outlined a far simpler plot, alleged to have originated in the Egyptian Mediterranean city of al-Arish, 140 miles northwest of Taba.

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