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Bombings Rock Egyptian Resort Town, 24 Killed

April 24, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: Sarah Gauch of the Christian Science Monitor, welcome.

The reports here are still fairly incomplete. What we’re hearing is that there were three explosions and that 18-plus people were killed. What more can you tell us about how the blast happened?

SARAH GAUCH, Christian Science Monitor: Well, at this point it seems that the blasts were the result of remote-controlled bombs, not suicide bombers. And they occurred in a market and busy restaurant area in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Dahab.

Dahab is known for being a place that attracts Western backpackers and budget tourists, quite a few of them from Israel. It’s on the Sinai peninsula, near Sharm el-Sheikh, which is probably the leading, most popular resort town in the Sinai peninsula, but also about less than 100 miles from the Israeli border.

MARGARET WARNER: What about the victims? Were the victims mostly tourists?

SARAH GAUCH: We don’t know the nationality of the victims yet, but we are hearing that it is foreign nationality — it is foreigners and Egyptians.

MARGARET WARNER: The wires are carrying a statement from President Mubarak calling it a terrorist act. What more can you tell us about who Egyptian authorities think could be behind these attacks?

SARAH GAUCH: No one has claimed responsibility yet for the attacks, but just given, you know, the fact that three blasts went off at very close to the same time in a tourist resort during one of the busiest holiday periods of the year suggests that it was a terrorist attack.

Last July, there was an attack in Sharm el-Sheikh and about 70 people were killed. And in October of 2004, there was an attack in Taba, which is also in the Sinai peninsula. So it seems that there is some extremist activity in the Sinai peninsula.

The authorities have said that there are extremist groups that are increasing in number in the Sinai peninsula, and it seems that the government is not being able to police this area as well as they are policing, let’s say, you know, the capital city of Cairo or the Nile Valley, which is much more populated, than the Sinai peninsula, which is an area not very populated, but does attract a lot of foreign tourists.

MARGARET WARNER: Were the authorities ever able to nail down to their satisfaction or to your satisfaction whether those previous attacks or the groups that carried them out were linked to al-Qaida or part of the al-Qaida structure?

SARAH GAUCH: Well, for example, in the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings that occurred last July, four groups claimed responsibility. One of those groups was called Al Tawhid wal Jihad, and this is an Islamist movement that said the attacks were in revenge for the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and out of allegiance to Osama bin Laden.

So it does seem likely that there is some sort of connection. It’s hard to qualify how close the connection, but some sort of connection to al-Qaida.

MARGARET WARNER: But do Egyptian authorities think, for instance, that that was the group that was responsible, when you said four different groups claim responsibility?

SARAH GAUCH: They don’t know which group, because no one has claimed responsibility. What the authorities are saying is that there are new Islamic militant groups growing that have arisen in the Sinai peninsula.

MARGARET WARNER: And do Egyptian authorities think that this also represents a resurgence of the militant Islamic radical activity, the extremism that they cracked down fairly harshly on in the early ’90s, though groups linked to, say, the Muslim Brotherhood, that really wanted to bring down the secular government of Egypt? Do they think these groups in the Sinai are part of that movement or something quite apart?

SARAH GAUCH: First of all, those extremist groups, we don’t really consider them linked to Muslim Brotherhood, because Muslim Brotherhood really has renounced violence. But there was the Islamic group and Jihad, those were the ones that were really carrying out violent attacks in the ’90s.

I would say that the authorities are reluctant to say that there are these links so that we’re going to see a return to that sort of uprising that occurred in the ’90s, where things really did get out of control. There were a lot of attacks against foreigners, and police, and government officials quite regularly.

But I think they are not being able to police the Sinai peninsula as well as they are policing the Nile Valley, specifically Cairo and down near Minya, where in the ’90s there were a lot of police attacks.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Sarah Gauch of the Christian Science Monitor, thanks so much.

SARAH GAUCH: Thank you.