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Join Date: Sep 2004
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Egypt Death Toll at 88; over 100 Wounded
Jul 23, 4:01 PM (ET)
By SARAH EL DEEB
SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt (AP) - Egypt's president vowed Saturday to hunt down terrorists who unleashed a rapid series of car bombs and another blast in this Egyptian Red Sea resort, devastating a luxury hotel and a coffee shop and killing at least 88 people in the nation's deadliest terror attack.
The early morning attacks, which used more than a half-ton of explosives, came just two days after the latest strikes in London and sent an already jittery world reeling again. At least 119 people also were wounded, the Interior Ministry said.
With two extremist groups claiming responsibility, Egypt tightened security at other busy tourist sites like the Pyramids and Luxor, and the government and British tourist agencies sent large aircraft to the Sinai to fly home nervous tourists.
"This cowardly, criminal act is aimed at undermining Egypt's security and stability and harming its people and its guests," President Hosni Mubarak said during a live national broadcast. "This will only increase our determination in chasing terrorism."
Mubarak flew into Sharm el-Sheik and inspected the scene at the Ghazala Gardens hotel. Heavily armed security forces guarded him throughout.
Rescue workers gave up the search for more dead or survivors at the hotel, where a car bomb blast flattened the reception area. A few body parts were still being found, but emergency personnel said they did not expect major increases in the death toll.
Egyptian police detained at least 20 people, including local Bedouin tribesmen, for questioning, but they were not currently suspected of involvement in the blasts, security officials said on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing. The men were detained near the scenes of the bombings.
Pope Benedict XVI was among world political and religious leaders deploring 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 660 pounds of explosives and slammed into the reception of the Ghazala Gardens in Sharm'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 about the same time near a beachside walkway where tourists often stroll at night.
A total of 88 people 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 was also killed.
There were conflicting claims of responsibility. Several hours after the attacks, a group claiming ties to al-Qaida issued a claim on an Islamic Web site.
The group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, al-Qaida, in Syria and Egypt, was one of two groups that also claimed responsibility for October bombings at the resorts of Taba and Ras ****an that killed 34. The group also claimed responsibility for a Cairo bombing in April.
Hours later, a previously unknown group calling itself the Holy Warriors of Egypt faxed a statement to newspapers discounting the al-Qaida claim and saying it carried out Saturday's attack. It listed the names of five people 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 last fall's 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 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 statement.
The Sharm hospital official, 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, said Association of British Travel Agents' spokeswoman Frances Tuke. Some British airlines have started sending extra planes to the resort to return home tourists who want to cut short their stays.
Egypt's national carrier, EgyptAir, also was sending larger aircraft to fly more people out, airline official Mohsen Khalil said.
The lobby of the 176-room Ghazala 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 AP. "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 in a grassy lawn near the pool. There, hundreds spent the night, some lying on pool mattresses.
On the other side of Sharm 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. Overturned chairs, broken waterpipes and pools of blood were scattered around a ravaged coffee shop nearby, where 17 people - believed to be mostly Egyptians - were killed.
More than eight hours later, the overturned shell of a minibus was still smoldering, near a large crater in the asphalt.
"The country's going to come to a stop. That's it!" sobbed Samir al-Mitwalli, who arrived in Sharm only a month ago to work as a driver. "Whoever did this wants to destroy the economy."
Sharm el-Sheik has expanded at a furious pace in recent years, making it a major player in Egypt's vital tourism industry. It also has hosted multiple summits for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and Mubarak has a winter residence there.
The attacks last fall in Taba ended a long halt in Egyptian militant violence. The last major attack had been in 1997, when Islamic militants killed 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians at the Pharaonic Temple of Hatshepsut outside Luxor in southern Egypt.
There were signs that the bombings were by suicide attackers. Witnesses at the coffee shop said the vehicle was moving when it blew up, and the governor of South Sinai, Mustafa Afifi, said the car in the Ghazala attack broke through security into the front driveway before exploding.
"This is a security farce," said Omar Ezzideen, owner of a children's clothing store in a nearby mall where windows were shattered. "How can something like this happen here? How could (explosives) enter here?"
Associated Press reporters Paul Garwood, Rawya Rageh, Salah Nasrawi and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.
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