- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

CAIRO — Three nearly simultaneous bombings hit an Egyptian beach resort popular with foreigners yesterday at the height of the tourist season, killing at least 23 persons and wounding more than 60, a day after Osama bin Laden issued a taped warning against Westerners.

The bombers struck the Sinai seaside town of Dahab in the early evening along a crowded promenade of shops, restaurants and bars. Interior Minister Habib Ibrahim El Adly said those killed were 20 Egyptians and three foreigners, including one Russian and one Swiss. Sixty-two persons were wounded.

The explosions hit the central part of the city at 7:15 p.m., when the streets were jammed with tourists going for walks, shopping or looking for a restaurant or bar for evening festivities by the tranquil waters of the Gulf of Aqaba.

“There were just three loud bangs and people rushing around,” British tourist Paul McBeath told Sky News. “Everybody is shaken.”

Another witness said the Al Capone restaurant, one of the area’s most popular spots, was destroyed.

“The tables and chairs have gone, there is nothing left,” Joseph Nazir, who owns a safari company in Dahab, told Britain’s Press Association. “Everybody is panicking; a lot of people are crying. We will be affected by this for a long, long time.”

Hotels and guesthouses were filled with foreigners and with Egyptians who were celebrating the long Coptic Christian Easter weekend that coincided this year with Shem al-Nessim, the ancient holiday marking the first day of spring.

For years, Dahab was a popular, low-key haven for young Western and Israeli backpackers drawn by prime scuba-diving sites and cheap hotels, which mainly consisted of huts set up along the beach. In recent years, more upscale hotels have been built, including a five-star Hilton resort.

At least three Israelis were hurt in the attack, which sent a steady stream of cars back to Israel about 65 miles to the north. Israeli authorities said 1,800 of their citizens were in the Sinai at the time of the blasts. However, there were far fewer Israelis vacationing in Sinai than during last week’s Passover holiday.

Israel’s ambassador in Cairo, Shalom Cohen, said the Israeli government had warned repeatedly against visiting the Sinai.

“Unfortunately, the warnings came true,” he told Israel’s Channel 10 TV.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose economy is heavily dependent on tourism, called the blasts a “sinful terrorist action.”

President Bush also condemned the attacks and vowed to bring terrorists to justice.

“Today, we saw again that the terrorists are willing to try to define the world the way they want to see it,” Mr. Bush said in Las Vegas.

Terrorist attacks have killed nearly 100 people at several tourist resorts in the Sinai Peninsula in the past two years.

Bombings in the resorts of Taba and Ras Shitan, near the Israeli border, killed 34 persons in October 2004. Suicide attackers in July in the resort of Sharm el Sheik killed at least 64 persons, mainly tourists.

The Egyptian government has said the militants who carried out the bombings were locals without international connections, but other security agencies have said they suspect al Qaeda.

Officials in Washington have not ruled out that al Qaeda may be involved, but have no evidence showing that is the case, an official said. Nor do they have any evidence that bin Laden’s tape was linked to the attack.

Bruce Hoffman, a RAND terrorism expert, agreed in a telephone interview from Washington.

“It could be coincidence. It’s an extraordinarily short turnaround — it’s impossible to say at this point.”

Mr. Hoffman said Egypt was one of the most proficient Middle Eastern countries in dealing with terrorist groups, so this attack showed “how adept and innovative these groups are.”

In his taped warning Sunday, bin Laden accused the United States and Europe of supporting a “Zionist” war on Islam by cutting off funds to the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas-run Palestinian Cabinet, condemned yesterday’s bombings as a “criminal attack, which is against all human values. We denounce the attack, which harmed the Egyptian national security.”

By contrast, Hamas had refused to condemn last week’s bombing that killed nine persons in an Israeli fast-food restaurant.

After yesterday’s attack, Egyptian television footage showed body parts scattered on the streets, bloodstained pavement and destroyed shops littered with broken glass.

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