Egypt looks for clues among Dahab carnage

Al-Qaida, Sinai's northern Beduin tribesmen are primary suspects in triple bombing.

By ORLY HALPERN
April 24, 2006 20:58
dahab 298

dahab. (photo credit: SKY NEWS)

 
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While Egyptian forensic experts wearing white latex gloves picked through blood-spattered broken dinner plates and small wooden camels looking for clues that will lead them to the perpetrators of Monday's terror attack in the Sinai Peninsula, unconfirmed reports Tuesday seemed to point in the direction of al-Qaida and Sinai's northern Beduin tribesmen. Within the space of one minute on Monday evening, three bombs blew up along Dahab's busy beachside promenade, killing 24 people - mostly Egyptians, injuring more than 60 and striking at the heart of Egypt's economy: tourism. For a Jerusalem Online video of events click here. Security police said they had detained for questioning 10 people - three of whom had arrived in Dahab a day before the attack and tried to leave the resort 15 minutes after the explosions in a car with false number plates. No other information was released about the suspects or the investigation. Nevertheless, whispers among some Egyptian hotel owners and the assessments of terror experts agreed that it was northern Beduin who most likely aided al-Qaida in bringing the explosives to Dahab. It was the third terror strike on a Sinai resort in less than two years and, once again, it happened as Egyptians were enjoying a national holiday.

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The police said they did not yet know if the explosions - timed for maximum destruction in a promenade of bars, restaurants and shops in the early evening - were caused by suicide bombers or bombs on timers. "This attack makes us very angry," said Hameid Ismail, the manager of Mohammed Ali Hotel, a bright white-washed hotel with an outdoor thatched-roof restaurant. "It will hurt us very badly. We work and live from tourism. We care for the tourists more than for ourselves. Everyone from small boys to an old men gives them great respect." One of the three explosions the night before shot a human head over the roof and onto the balcony of the hotel. Outside the entrance, footprints in blood stained the bricked promenade. Ismail fielded numerous calls from European tourists canceling their reservations. Nevertheless, many tourists remained, lounging on the floor of the cushion-filled restaurant. Delaray Ferreira, a 29-year-old South African on vacation, was eating in the Al Capone restaurant with a friend when the first bomb went off 20 meters away. He and his companion ducked under the table as the second bomb went off seconds later in front of the open-air eatery. "When we got up, there were two wounded staff people lying across our table," he said the following day as he stood next to a pool of congealed blood near the wrecked restaurant where he almost lost his life the night before. Southern Beduin who live in the Dahab area fear an Egyptian backlash if some of the perpetrators turn out to be Beduin. They immediately cooperated with security forces efforts to find the killers. Within half an hour of the bombing, Beduin were driving with the police towards the mountains, guiding them to the desert escape routes. Beduin living in the mountain areas received calls asking them to be alert for suspects. "We closed all the desert routes," said Sheikh Nasser Abu Breik, a leader of the Um Zeina tribe, who said he personally called numerous families on their cell phones to ask them to stand guard. "If the killers did not die in the attacks, they must be here," said the middle-aged sheikh dressed in a long white garment and light blue keffiyeh, as he walked down the Dahab tourist promenade offering his condolences. Ismail said it was impossible to believe that anyone from Sinai would carry out such an attack. "These crazy people are ruining our name and taking our money," he said. Nevertheless, he acknowledged there was a difference between the northern Sinai Beduin and the southerners. "The southern Bedouin are very relaxed, very nice," he claimed. Ismail is also from the Um Zeina tribe; a southern Sinai tribe and one of the biggest in the peninsula. Like the other southern Beduin tribes, the Um Zeina people live off of tourist dollars, which are spread bountifully along the sparkling eastern and western coasts of the peninsula. In Ismail's own family, he and his two brothers and six uncles all are gainfully employed by hosting American, European and Egyptian guests in their hotel or driving them to nearby tourist destinations. The northern Beduin are not as fortunate. With almost no tourism along the northern coast, the indigenous people there live in great poverty. Unemployment is high - smuggling of brides, prostitutes and drugs is a major employer. It was the northerners who were held responsible for the first Sinai bomb attack, which killed 34 people in Taba in October 2004. Between 2,000-4,000 of them were arrested en masse by Egyptian security services. Many were allegedly tortured. Human rights groups protested the mass arrests. In July 2005, some 60 people were killed in a terror attack on Sharm el-Sheikh. "The same group of Bedouin that deal in smuggling and crime are now a base for terror," said Jonathan Fighel, senior researcher at the International Policy Institute for Counter-terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. "The guides, the networking, the hiding places, the knowledge of where there are patrols. The terrorists take advantage of this base." The northerners are also more susceptible to radicalism because of their deeper sympathy for the Palestinian cause. Many have relatives inside the Gaza Strip and the Negev following the 1947-1949 War of Independence, which left some families divided. Radical Egyptian Islamists populate mosques in Northern Sinai and local Egyptian terrorist groups such as Gamaa Islamiya and Egyptian Jihad are believed to be active there. "For years the local radicals have been working to hurt Egypt," said Fighel. "After 9/11, the global forces connected with the local forces and used them to make attacks." Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday condemned the bombings, saying the "criminal actions" seemed aimed at destabilizing the country. The statement by the Islamist group - which is officially outlawed in Egypt but has been allowed to participate in politics in recent months and whose supporters hold seats in parliament - came a day after Hamas also condemned the bombings. AP contributed to this report.

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