The View from a Ruined Hotel

Destruction and carnage at a hotel targeted by a car bomb early Saturday in Egypt bear the hallmarks of an al Qaeda attack. Vivian Salaamma, a reporter for the Daily Star in Cairo, describes the scene.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

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

The worst terrorist attacks ever on Egypt took place overnight at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh. A series of explosions there has killed 83 people. That number may rise. Among them were Egyptians and visitors from Italy, Great Britain, the Czech Republic and other nations. More than 200 people have been injured. A group linked to al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the Sharm el Sheikh blasts in an Internet posting that has not been verified. Sharm el Sheikh is a popular dive resort area and has been host to the recent cease-fire announcement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Leaders around the world have condemned these attacks.

Vivian Salama is a reporter for the Daily Star newspaper in Cairo and she joins us from the scene in front of the Ghazala hotel in Sharm el Sheikh.

Vivian, thanks very much for being with us. And can you tell us what you're seeing?

Ms. VIVIAN SALAMA (Daily Star): Search-and-rescue crews have been working round the clock since the wee hours to pull out any potential survivors. They are still holding out hopes that they will find survivors underneath the rubble, but, you know, with over 12 hours of searching, it's really starting to look grim.

SIMON: Can you tell us what authorities on the scene there are doing right now?

Ms. SALAMA: Right now there are bulldozers on the scene and they're just plowing through all the large chunks of rubble that have fallen. The Ghazala hotel, the ceiling completely collapsed after what they believe--a car drove into the lobby and then exploded. So it's virtually unrecognizable at this point and it was once a very beautiful hotel. So they are now bulldozing through these large chunks of rubble, trying to see if they can find anyone.

SIMON: Have you been able to talk to eyewitnesses?

Ms. SALAMA: I have spoken to some eyewitnesses, but not at this location. Earlier today I was at the Old Market ...(unintelligible). A lot of the people, the Egyptians are store owners who were just, you know, enjoying a late-night cup of tea with friends when the explosion took place and they were just absolutely devastated, you know. So much of their livelihood depends on these tiny stores that sell handbags and necklaces and, you know, little souvenirs for tourists and they can't get a grasp on why someone would do this.

SIMON: What about this group that, at least on the Internet, is claiming responsibility? Do you know anything about their history?

Ms. SALAMA: Not much, apart from claiming links to al-Qaeda. You know, they are describing the attacks today in Egypt as the typical al-Qaeda one-two-three attacks. Their Web site just reads very simply that this is a response to criminal acts by the Egyptian regime. And as I just mentioned, the Egyptian government and the extremist organizations have really been kind of playing a game of cat and mouse.

SIMON: This group is called Abdullah Azzam, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, al-Qaeda in Syria and Egypt, right?

Ms. SALAMA: This is correct, yeah.

SIMON: And President Mubarak has come to the scene?

Ms. SALAMA: President Mubarak did make an appearance here from the first half of the morning. He visited a hospital, the Sharm el Sheikh hospital, checking in on the victims. He also gave a press conference, which most people didn't really find out about until after it was over, ironically enough. But July 26th here in Egypt is Independence Day. It's a long weekend here, which is why there were a lot of tourists here, Egyptians included. President Mubarak was supposed to actually announce his candidacy officially on the 26th, so with this tragedy that has happened today, it's almost an opportunity, albeit a bad one, for President Mubarak to do a little bit of campaigning, evaluating the situation while checking in on the victims, and so that's what we saw here today.

SIMON: Vivian Salama, a reporter for the Daily Star newspaper of Cairo. Thanks very much.

Ms. SALAMA: Thank you.

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