Sharm el-Sheik Bombings Bear Markings of Al Qaeda

Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle East studies and international affairs at Sarah Lawrence College, talks about the groups that have claimed responsibility for the bombings and their possible ties to al Qaeda. Gerges says the attacks in Egypt appear to be the work of an Egyptian al Qaeda leader.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Joining us now is Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle East studies and international affairs at Sarah Lawrence College.

Good morning.

Professor FAWAZ GERGES (Sarah Lawrence College): Good morning.

INSKEEP: Let's talk first about these two different groups that have claimed responsibility for the bombings. Want to find out who they are. First, what is the Abdullah Azzam Brigades?

Prof. GERGES: The Azzam Brigades of al-Qaeda also claimed responsibility for last year's October bombings at the Sinai resorts of Taba. Not much is known about the second organization, the so-called Mujahideen of Egypt or the Islamic Fighters. But I believe that the link or connection between the two groups is the parent organization that is al-Qaeda. And regardless of whether al-Qaeda either directly ordered the attacks or inspired by a local affiliate, I would argue that the spectacular coordinated nature of the bombings carry the stamp and, in fact, appears to be the handiwork of the second man, man number two in al-Qaeda--that is, Ayman Zawahiri.

INSKEEP: Who is an Egyptian.

Prof. GERGES: Yes, absolutely. Ayman Zawahiri is the second in command of al-Qaeda. He is the brain, the ideologue, the conceptualizer who pioneered, by the way, the business of spectacular suicide coordinated attacks beginning with the attacks against the American embassies in East Africa in 1998. And Ayman Zawahiri, who is an Egyptian, in fact, led one of the oldest and bloodiest jihadist organizations called Tonzeen al-Jihad(ph), which battled the Egyptian regime throughout the 1990s, and Ayman Zawahiri merged his group with al-Qaeda in 2001 and, of course, it became al-Qaeda al-Jihad--that is, the base of al-Jihad.

INSKEEP: Now is part of the challenge here that you have these two groups that have claimed responsibility, but there's a whole list of groups that may be based in Egypt and some of them may be fictitious, some of them may be the same group by multiple names?

Prof. GERGES: Absolutely. And, in fact, what the attacks do since last year, since October 2004, in fact, raise serious question about whether Ayman Zawahiri's Tonzeen al-Jihad still has an infrastructure in Egypt or whether al-Qaeda has been able to build local affiliates in the country. But, in fact, the--it seems to me regardless of whether a local affiliate carried out the attacks or al-Qaeda itself, it seems to me that Ayman Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden do have a base, either a structure or a base or a local affiliate in Egypt.

INSKEEP: Is there a piece of evidence that causes you to feel convinced that Zawahiri or bin Laden would have some connection to this?

Prof. GERGES: Yes, absolutely. The sophisticated, coordinated suicidal nature of the attacks carry the stamp or, I will argue, appear to be the handiwork of Ayman Zawahiri. Ayman Zawahiri pioneered the business of coordinated suicide bombings since 1998 and, in fact, he goes for the spectacular, the earth-shaking operations beginning with the attacks against the American embassies in East Africa in 1998.

INSKEEP: We've been speaking with Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle East studies and international affairs at Sarah Lawrence College.

Thanks very much.

Prof. GERGES: Thank you.

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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