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Archive for Monday, July 25, 2005

Investigators piecing together outline of Egyptian resort attacks

July 25, 2005

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— The bombers who carried out Egypt's worst-ever terrorist attack appear to have entered this Red Sea resort in pickup trucks loaded with explosives that were hidden under vegetables, security officials said Sunday. Police were searching for three suspects believed to have survived the bombings.

One truck headed for the luxury Ghazala Gardens hotel. There, one man planted a bomb in a suitcase in a parking lot, while another slammed the vehicle into the Ghazala hotel's reception area, the security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.

As people fled the Ghazala attack, the suitcase exploded and killed at least seven people, said the officials.

A second truck, on a road leading to another major hotel, got stuck in traffic in the Old Market - an area frequented by Egyptian workers in the resort area on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Two militants inside abandoned the vehicle, apparently setting a timer, and the blast detonated soon after, the officials said.

Before the attacks, the militants rubbed serial numbers off the trucks' engines, the officials said. Such serial numbers had been a key clue Egyptian investigators had used to track down those behind similar bombings last October against two resorts further north in the Sinai Peninsula, Taba and Ras Shitan.

According to local hospitals, Saturday's pre-dawn bombings killed at least 88 people - both Egyptians and foreigners; Egypt's Health Ministry put the death toll at 64. Hospitals said the ministry count does not include a number of sets of body parts.

One official said he believed the man who planted the suitcase came separately, not in the attack truck, and he said police were looking for more than three people, though he would not elaborate.

Investigators also were examining whether the suicide bomber who set off the blast at the Ghazala was one of five suspects still at large from the October bombings.

Police took DNA samples from the parents of the five Taba suspects to compare with bodies found at the Ghazala, a police official said in el-Arish, where the parents were briefly detained.

In the October attacks, car bombs hit hotels in Taba and Ras Shitan - resorts near the Israeli border - nearly simultaneously, killing 34 people. Egyptian authorities portrayed those bombings as an extension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rather than a homegrown Islamic militant movement.

In Washington, Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzalez said he believed both the London and Sharm attacks were organized by al-Qaida. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo confirmed that one American was among the dead in Sharm, and the State Department issued an alert warning Americans to avoid south Sinai.

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