Cairo bazaar blast kills 2, injures 18

Attack appears to be first to target foreign tourists in Egypt's capital since '97

April 08, 2005|By Megan K. Stack | Megan K. Stack,LOS ANGELES TIMES

CAIRO, Egypt - An explosion in a bustling market in the tourist-packed heart of Cairo's old city killed two people yesterday and wounded at least 18. Some witnesses reported that a motorcyclist set off the blast

The old bazaar near al-Azhar mosque was sealed off last night as investigators combed the narrow alleyways for clues. Witnesses said the blast shattered shop windows, leaving the dead and wounded sprawled in the streets.

The late afternoon blast was the first bombing that appeared to target tourists in Cairo since September 1997. The attack was reminiscent of the bloody battles waged against vacationers in the 1990s by Islamist militants who targeted the tourism industry in hope of undermining the government.

The attack comes six months after a string of coordinated explosions rocked hotels in the Sinai Peninsula, killing 34 people.

Early accounts of yesterday's bombing were jumbled. A Health Ministry official at first announced that an American and a French citizen were killed in the blast. Later, the health minister announced that a French citizen was killed but that the other body was too mangled to identify. The government confirmed two deaths, but local news reports placed the death toll as high as four.

Two Americans were among the wounded, along with citizens of France, Italy, Turkey and Egypt, a Health Ministry official said. Witnesses described a man on a motorcycle who they said had set off the blast. A security source said someone pushed the bomb-laden motorcycle onto the narrow street and ran away.

The winding labyrinths of stalls and shops are a draw for many of the tourists who visit Cairo. In the teeming streets, aggressive peddlers hawk everything from brass lamps to fresh spices to polyester-and-sequin belly-dancing costumes. The bazaars lie close to the mosque and university at al-Azhar, where students from all over the Islamic world come to study at one of the most respected seats of learning in Sunni Islam.

Yesterday's blast wasn't the first time that the bazaar had been targeted. In 1997, Egyptian security agents rounded up members of an Islamic Jihad cell on charges of plotting an attack against Israeli tourists who were to visit the shopping area.

The government waged a ruthless campaign against armed Islamists throughout the 1990s and was credited with breaking down the militant groups by the end of that decade. Until bombers struck Sinai last fall, conventional wisdom held that Egypt's security services had effectively clamped down on terrorism. Most of the former fighters either renounced violence, or were imprisoned, killed or fled from Egypt.

"All the Islamist forces who have the capability to carry out such an attack have renounced violence already," said Mohamed Hashem, an Islamist lawyer and former member of the Gamaa al Islamiya.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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