Egypt seizes 10 in fatal blasts

April 26, 2006|By KEN ELLINGWOOD AND HOSSAM HALAWY | KEN ELLINGWOOD AND HOSSAM HALAWY,LOS ANGELES TIMES

DAHAB, Egypt -- Egyptian authorities arrested 10 people yesterday in connection with a trio of blasts that left at least 18 dead and more than 80 wounded and cast a pall over this Bohemian-flavored beach resort.

Officials provided few details on the arrests, which were reported on state-owned Egyptian television a day after the explosions along a promenade of open-air restaurants, bars and souvenir stores on the shore of the Gulf of Aqaba.

It was the third bombing attack on the tourist-dependent Sinai Peninsula since October 2004 and renewed security worries in Egypt, which has close ties to the United States.

The government revised its casualty count to 18 dead, including 12 Egyptians and six foreigners, and 85 injured. Other counts placed the figure as high as 24. The foreign victims included a German, a Swiss, a Russian, a Lebanese, and two women whose nationality had not been determined, said Magdy Rady, a government spokesman. He said that Egyptians made up the bulk of the injured.

It remained unclear how the Dahab bombings were carried out, though officials appeared to be discounting the possibility of suicide bombers in favor of a scenario of carefully timed remote-controlled detonation.

Witnesses said the explosions came in quick succession, shortly after 7 p.m., as many visitors, including large numbers of Egyptians celebrating the Shamm el-Nessim spring holiday or the end of the Coptic Christian Easter, strolled along the half-mile strip of shops and eating places.

"I saw dead people. I saw people mutilated. Smoke was coming out of their chests. I saw someone with his arm missing," said Ahmed Wasfy, assistant manager of a cafe 50 yards from one of the three blast sites. "Whoever did this is a terrorist, but a clever terrorist. He didn't lose anything. But he made everybody lose," Wasfy said.

Other witnesses reported an eerie hush as the bars and cafes stilled their music after the booms. Although the blasts blew out several storefronts, including a jewelry shop named Mona Lisa, the effects were concentrated, suggesting that the bombs were not particularly powerful. Rady said most of the injuries were caused by flying glass.

By yesterday morning, all of the wounded had been moved from Dahab's tiny hospital to better-equipped facilities in the resort of Sharm el-Sheik, farther south, or to the capital, Cairo.

Israelis, who flock to Sinai's beaches by the thousands during holidays, streamed north yesterday over the border crossing at Eilat. Thousands had been in Sinai during Passover.

No group had claimed responsibility for the bombings yesterday. President Hosni Mubarak vowed a strong response against what he called "blind terrorism."

More than a dozen suspects are scheduled to go on trial next month in connection with the bombing attack last year in Sharm el-Sheik and the 2004 bombing in Taba and Ras Shaitan, in northern Sinai. The Sharm el-Sheik attack, which also involved multiple blasts, killed more than 60 people; 34 died in the earlier bombings.

Egyptian authorities have blamed the two earlier attacks on the same group of Bedouin militants centered around the northern Sinai city of El Arish.

Ken Ellingwood and Hossam Halawy write for the Los Angeles Times.

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