Saturday, October 9, 2004

TABA, Egypt — A female suicide bomber is believed to have taken part in the terrorist attack on the Red Sea hotel in which at least 31 persons died, Israeli and Egyptian military officials said last night.

A woman, whose decapitated body was found at the back of the Hilton, is thought to have been acting with two other terrorists who rammed explosives-laden cars into the front of the Hilton Hotel in the Sinai resort town of Taba on Thursday night.

“Our soldiers were shown a body by the Egyptians. It was a woman. Her head had been blown off. They said they were convinced she was a suicide bomber who had probably carried the explosives in a backpack,” said Capt. Gilad Shemesh, an Israeli army officer at the scene.

An Israeli army officer with nearly 20 years of experience in dealing with terrorist attacks pointed to the spot near the hotel’s pool where the woman’s body was found along with several of the victims.

“It is impossible that those victims could have been killed by the two car-bomb blasts at the front of the hotel,” he said. “It is clear to me that it was a suicide bomber — but the Egyptians don’t want to talk about it officially.”

On Friday, Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi Farkash, Israel’s military-intelligence director, said al Qaeda was the likely perpetrator. Egyptian investigators yesterday were leaning toward an al Qaeda connection as well.

Egyptian investigators said they suspected eight to 10 terrorists targeting Israeli tourists carried out the attacks, possibly slipping in from Saudi Arabia or Jordan on speedboats.

They also said there was a chance a local sleeper cell of Egyptians might have been activated to stage the attacks, Egypt’s first terrorist strike in seven years.

However, the terrorist group is not known to use women in its suicide operations.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the investigators told the Associated Press that such a group would almost certainly be linked to Ayman al-Zawahri, who led the extremist Egyptian Islamic Jihad before merging the group with al Qaeda in 1998. The Egypt-born Zawahri is Osama bin Laden’s top deputy.

Palestinian terror groups, including Hamas, have only recently started using female suicide bombers. But Hamas denied it was involved, reiterating its position that it will only strike targets inside Israel or the Palestinian territories.

Egyptian police said they had arrested “dozens” of Bedouin men suspected of helping to supply explosives to the bombers.

Hanni Rashad, a limousine driver at the Hilton, said that injured hotel workers had told him one of the suicide cars had Israeli license plates.

This meant the vehicles would have been able to pass through the hotel’s security gates easily, because the guards rarely checked Israeli tourists’ cars, he said.

Rescuers yesterday removed large slabs of concrete covering the lobby and dug down into the basement shopping concourse.

The Israeli military said three more bodies, including that of a toddler, were pulled out yesterday. Rescue official Mark Zev said one body found in the basement was of a guest who had been on the hotel’s sixth floor.

Avi Greenglick, a member of the Israeli army’s search-and-rescue unit, said: “We will continue searching for victims until we are absolutely sure that there is nothing else we can do.”

Israeli and Egyptian officials also are investigating the simultaneous strike on the Moon Island Village campsite at Ras a Satan, 30 miles to the south, which killed two Israeli tourists in their 20s.

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