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10 Arrested in Egyptian Resort Blasts

The attack is the third in the tourist-dependent Sinai peninsula since October 2004. Casualty count is revised to 18 dead and 85 wounded.

April 26, 2006|Ken Ellingwood and Hossam Halawy | Special to The Times

DAHAB, Egypt — Egyptian authorities Tuesday arrested 10 people in connection with a trio of blasts that left at least 18 dead and more than 80 wounded, casting 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 near-simultaneous explosions went off 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 tourism-dependent Sinai peninsula since October 2004 and has 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 death toll as high as 24. The foreign victims were 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 most of the injured were Egyptians.

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

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday April 27, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Sinai bombing: An article in Wednesday's Section A about the terrorist attack on the Egyptian resort town of Dahab named the special correspondent who contributed to the report as Hossam Halawy. His name is Hossam Hamalawy.

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

"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, an assistant manager at an outdoor 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. He scrutinized the faces of the dead at the hospital after the bombing, he said, in a frantic search for a friend, who later turned up unharmed.

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

By Tuesday morning, all of the wounded had been moved from Dahab's tiny hospital to better-equipped facilities in the larger resort of Sharm el Sheik, farther south, or in Cairo, the capital. Riot police clad in black surrounded the entrance to the Sharm el Sheik hospital, barring journalists and relatives of the wounded from entering.

Israelis, who flock to Sinai's beaches during holidays, Tuesday streamed north over the border crossing at Eilat in Israel. Thousands had been in Sinai during the recent Passover holiday.

No group has claimed responsibility for the bombings Tuesday.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak pledged a strong response to 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 bombings in Taba and Ras Shitan 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 a group of local Bedouin militants centered on the northern Sinai city of El Arish.

A variety of factors, including its popularity among Israeli and Western tourists, have made the Sinai peninsula a favored target for attack, terrorism experts say.

"The coast combines all the elements of a desirable target, especially for global jihad," Brig. Gen. Elkana Har-Nof, an Israeli government counter-terrorism official, told Israel's Army Radio.

Har-Nof cited the area's remoteness, its many smuggling routes, the ready availability of explosives and the fact that impoverished local Bedouins could be recruited to help stage attacks.

The Egyptian government recently announced the arrests of 22 members of a militant group dubbed the Taifa al Mansoura, or the Victorious Sect, on charges that they were plotting assassinations and planned to bomb tourist resorts.

Officials and residents took note that, like the previous bombings, the attack Tuesday in Dahab roughly coincided with a political anniversary -- the annual commemoration of Israel's 1982 handover of the Sinai under terms of the peace treaty signed with Egypt three years earlier.

The Taba bombings in October 2004 came a day after the national holiday marking the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, and the Sharm el Sheik attack fell on the day Egyptians celebrate the 1952 revolution that brought down the monarchy.

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