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Egypt contradicts alqaeda assessment of bombing

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This theory reflects the growing sense among U.S., European and Arab intelligence agencies that al-Qaida has evolved into an ideology, rather than a distinct organization.

Posted on Mon, Oct. 25, 2004
Egypt announces arrests in fatal bombings, points to Israeli policies


Chicago Tribune

CAIRO, Egypt - (KRT) - The worst terrorist attack in Egypt in seven years was organized by a Palestinian angered by Israeli policies, the Egyptian government alleged Monday, announcing the first arrests in coordinated bombings that killed 34 people this month in the Sinai peninsula.

The Interior Ministry said a Palestinian driver and eight Egyptian accomplices used simple washing-machine timers, stolen cars and decades-old explosives to rig the car bomb that partly destroyed the Taba Hilton hotel, as well as two other bombs at nearby campgrounds. The resorts on the placid Red Sea coast were packed at the time with Israeli visitors at the end of a Jewish holiday.

The Egyptian description of the attacks as a small, primitive operation, rooted in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was likely to tamp down Egyptians' fears of a terrorist resurgence, though it contrasts with U.S. and Israeli officials' belief that the attacks bear the inspiration, if not direct involvement, of international Islamist militants.

The alleged organizer of the Oct. 7 blasts, Ayad Said Saleh, and another man were killed in the hotel bombing when timers detonated early, the Egyptian government said in a statement. Their remains were identified through DNA analysis. Five Egyptians, including local Bedouin tribesmen, have been arrested for their role in rigging the bombs and picking the targets, and two other Egyptians remain at large.

"The attack was in response to the escalating situation in the occupied territories and aimed at Israeli tourists," the Interior Ministry said in a statement, without explaining the basis for that conclusion.

That assessment contradicts statements by Israeli investigators whose inquiry suggests the well-coordinated bombings matched the sophistication of an al-Qaida-style assault of the kind witnessed in Turkey and Spain in the past two years. This theory reflects the growing sense among U.S., European and Arab intelligence agencies that al-Qaida has evolved into an ideology, rather than a distinct organization.

A senior Western diplomat in Israel said investigators were considering whether a tape broadcast Oct. 1 from Egyptian-born al-Qaida deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri could have been a coded trigger for the attack.

Israeli security officials have told lawmakers in recent hearings that they suspect a loosely organized network known as World Jihad is responsible, describing the group as "an octopus" of independent cells with al-Qaida at the core. The cells decide for themselves when to strike, often with the aid of locals who are recruited with money, an Israeli intelligence officer told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Army Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon told the committee that the strikes appeared to take 18 months to two years of planning, most likely with funding from Sunni extremists in the Persian Gulf.

But Egyptian authorities Monday outlined a far simpler plot, alleged to have originated in the Egyptian Mediterranean city of al-Arish, 140 miles northwest of Taba, across the rugged desert peninsula.

That was home to the Palestinian, Saleh, a convicted rapist who "recently turned to religious fanaticism," according to a government statement. He recruited the others to steal three cars and gather explosives from leftover ordnance scattered throughout the Sinai from decades of conflict dating to World War II. The barren peninsula, long contested as a strategic bridge between Africa and Asia, has been at peace since 1979.

The five Egyptians under arrest are accused of specific roles. Mohammed Ahmed El Sweirky and Ihab Mahmoud Eid Mesbah allegedly helped steal one of the cars. Mohammed Gaez Sabbah Hussein, a government employee and electronics repairman is accused of preparing the timers. Local craftsman Mohamed Abdallah Rabbaa allegedly fastened the explosives to the cars. And Bedouin campground owner Himdan Salama Salem is accused of providing information about the two targeted camps in the Ras Al-Shaitan area of the southern coast.

At large are Mohamed Ahmed Feleyfal, an agriculture worker whose brother was killed in the hotel blast, and Hammad Goman Gomah, a driver from North Sinai.

The bombings struck within minutes of each other, killing 11 Israelis, eight Egyptians, two Italians, one Russian and 12 others whose nationalities are not yet confirmed.


2004, Chicago Tribune.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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