SHARM EL SHEIK, Egypt — Police arrested dozens of suspects in this Red Sea resort yesterday and tightened security at such other popular tourist sites as the pyramids and Luxor, after a massive attack by Muslim terrorists that killed at least 88, mostly Egyptian workers.
An additional 119 persons were wounded in Egypt’s worst act of terrorism ever, hundreds of foreign tourists fled the country in an evacuation organized by British travel agencies, and President Hosni Mubarak vowed to catch those responsible.
“This cowardly, criminal act is aimed at undermining Egypt’s security and stability and harming its people and its guests,” Mr. Mubarak said during a live national broadcast. “This will only increase our determination in chasing terrorism.”
Mr. Mubarak flew into Sharm el Sheik and inspected the carnage at the Ghazala Gardens hotel.
Rescue workers gave up the search for more dead. Still finding body parts, emergency personnel said they did not expect major increases in the death toll.
“This will only make us more determined to pursue terrorism and dig it out by the roots,” Mr. Mubarak said. “We will not give in to its blackmail or seek a truce.”
Police arrested 35 persons in the Sharm el Sheik area, security sources told Reuters news agency, but it was not clear if they were suspected of close links with the bombers.
The massive arrest campaign led by Egypt’s National Security forces began yesterday afternoon and was ongoing in the evening in north, central and south Sinai, the sources said.
Among those nabbed were men recently released and previously arrested in connection with deadly anti-Israeli bombings on October 7 in and around Taba, in northern Sinai, the sources also said.
Pope Benedict XVI was among world political and religious leaders who deplored the attacks, calling them “senseless acts.” He appealed to terrorists to renounce violence.
The attacks appeared well-coordinated. Two massive car bombs, possibly detonated by suicide attackers, went off simultaneously at 1:15 a.m., about two miles apart.
One car was packed with an estimated 660 pounds of explosives and slammed into the reception area of the Ghazala Gardens in Sharm el Sheik’s Naama Bay, the main strip of hotels, officials said. The second bomb weighed about 440 pounds and exploded in a nearby area called the Old Market, frequented mainly by Egyptians working in the town’s resorts.
A third bomb, believed hidden in a sack, detonated at about the same time near a beachside walkway where tourists often stroll at night.
A total of 88 persons were confirmed dead, said Dr. Saeed Abdel Fattah, manager of the Sharm el Sheik International Hospital, where the victims were taken. The dead included two Britons, two Germans and an Italian, he added, and Czech officials said one Czech tourist also was killed.
There were conflicting claims of responsibility. Several hours after the attacks, a group claiming ties to al Qaeda issued a claim on an Islamic Web site.
The group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, al Qaeda in Syria and Egypt, said it was responsible. The group also claimed responsibility for October bombings at the resorts of Taba and Ras Shitan that killed 34.
Hours later, a previously unknown group calling itself the Holy Warriors of Egypt faxed a statement to newspapers discounting the al Qaeda claim and claiming that it carried out the attack yesterday. It listed the names of five persons it said were the bombers.
The authenticity of the statements could not immediately be verified.
A top Egyptian official said there were some indications the latest bombings were linked to the Taba explosions.
“We have some clues, especially about the car that was exploded in the Old Market, and investigators are pursuing,” Interior Minister Habib al-Adli said. He called it “an ugly act of terrorism.”
The United States, Israel and European and Middle Eastern countries condemned the attacks, and neighboring Jordan said it was immediately tightening security at its tourist sites.
President Bush spoke by phone with Mr. Mubarak to offer his support.
“Standing together with the rest of the civilized world, we will win the conflict against this global scourge,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in a prepared statement.
A Sharm el Sheik hospital official, Dr. Abdel Fattah, said 43 foreigners were wounded, including 13 Italians, nine Britons, five Austrians, five Germans, four Spaniards, a Czech, an Israeli Arab, two Saudis, two Kuwaitis and a Qatari national. There were no reports of American casualties.
Eight Britons and three Spaniards were confirmed injured by officials from their countries. An estimated 9,000 British tourists were believed to be in Sharm el Sheik, said Frances Tuke, spokeswoman for the Association of British Travel Agents.
The lobby of the 176-room Ghazala Gardens hotel collapsed into a pancaked pile of concrete. David Stewart, from Liverpool, England, was staying with his wife and two teenage daughters at the Ghazala Gardens when the explosion hit. The windows of his room were smashed, and he and his family ran.
“Somebody shouted, ‘Keep moving,’ ” he told the Associated Press. “The lights were out. I couldn’t tell what was happening.”
His family, like many others, fled toward the back of the hotel to take refuge on a lawn near the pool. There, hundreds spent the night, some lying on pool mattresses.
On the other side of Sharm el Sheik in the Old Market, a second car bomb in a minibus parking lot sent a ball of flaming wreckage shooting over a nearby beach and into the sea and littered the sand with body parts.
“The country’s going to come to a stop. That’s it,” sobbed Samir al-Mitwalli, who arrived in Sharm el Sheik only a month ago to work as a driver. “Whoever did this wants to destroy the economy.”
The attacks last fall in Taba ended a long pause in Egyptian militant violence. The previous major attack had occurred in 1997, when Islamic militants killed 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians at the ancient Temple of Hatshepsut outside Luxor in southern Egypt.