Do Bombings Highlight Shift in Terror Tactics?

Rami Khouri of Beirut's Daily Star tells Scott Simon that two trends are apparent in light of bombings in Egypt, London and elsewhere: The terrorist movement is fragmenting, making it harder to track, and terrorists remain unafraid to take on major powers, even in the Arab world.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Mr. CHARLES IVES (Police Constable): Two explosions within the space of four minutes. First, a huge explosion first, then obviously a state of panic. Lots of people running everywhere and, you know, obviously, we sort of tried to get away from them. And then--so if we started walking, then four minutes later the second one went off.

SIMON: That's Police Constable Charles Ives who was vacationing in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. We're following developments there at this hour. At least 83 people are dead. Many more were injured in a series of explosions overnight in the Red Sea resort city. A group connected to al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility on an Internet site. That claim has yet to be authenticated. Rami Khouri is the executive editor of The Daily Star and he joins us from Beirut where, by the way, a separate blast followed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit there yesterday.

Rami, thanks for being with us.

Mr. RAMI KHOURI (The Daily Star): I'm glad to be with you again. Thank you.

SIMON: What does Sharm el-Sheikh represent to some of the terrorist groups that have been hostile to the government of Egypt and perhaps other governments as well?

Mr. KHOURI: I think it represents a rather significant and worrying development qualitatively showing that the people involved in this kind of terror are not afraid to confront the Arab regimes that have been fighting them most fiercely and diligently as part of the US- and British-led global war on terror. I think you're seeing two very worrying trends. One is the fragmentation and decentralization and localization of terror movements or organizations or sentiments, whatever you want to call them, all over the world and this is what we saw in London and Madrid and Istanbul and Egypt several times now.

And you're also seeing movements that are challenging the powers. They're challenging the US. They're challenging Britain. They're challenging Egypt. Egypt has fought a ferocious war against Islamic violence and terror or Islamists who practice violence and terror. There's thousands of them in jail and these people are still practicing in your face terror. So I think the lessons of all that have to be studied and absorbed much more seriously and diligently than has been the case to date.

SIMON: I know it's difficult to fathom something like this, but why do tourist sites become targets? Is it because of international clientele there? Is it because of economist interests that are concentrated there?

Mr. KHOURI: I would think in Egypt it's probably three reasons. One, this is a big blow to the economy of Egypt which relies heavily on tourism. Around 6, $7 billion a year they get. And, of course, that'll swing back. You know, it drops and then it comes back eventually.

The second reason is that Sharm el-Sheikh has been a symbol of the Egyptian state. It's been developed as a kind of showcase for summits, for international anti-terror meetings, for Arab summits, for Arab-Israeli summits, anti-terror summits. It's become a kind of poster child of the global war on terror and Arab, American, Israeli cooperation. So it's a very powerful symbol.

And the third reason is it is a symbol of the Egyptian state itself with its massive security operation. So I think all three reasons together make it a rather compelling target for these terror groups.

SIMON: Well, Rami Khouri, it's always good to turn to you and I guess we will note as we leave you that often Sharm el-Sheikh has been the center of conferences because it was considered to be so secure and a geography that you could contain.

Mr. KHOURI: Yeah.

SIMON: Thanks very much for being with us again, Rami.

Mr. KHOURI: My pleasure, thanks.

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