Egypt Arrests Three in Sinai Bombing Probe

Egyptian police have detained at least three people in connection with the bombings at Dahab, a beach resort on the Sinai Peninsula. Three bombs killed at least 24 people, and wounded dozens more. It was the third such attack at a popular Sinai resort in less than two years.

RENEE MOTAGNE, host:

Egyptian police have detained at least three people in connection with yesterday's bomb attack at Dahab, a Red Sea resort on the Sinai Peninsula. Three bombs exploded, killing at least 23 people and wounding dozens more. Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, has condemned the bombings as a quote, "sinful, terrorist action." It was the third such attack at a popular Sinai resort in less than two years, and like the previous ones, it came as Egyptians were celebrating a holiday. NPR's Eric Westervelt is in Dahab, and he joins me now. And Eric, what are you seeing there?

ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:

Well, it's a bit of a strange mix, Renee. You've got European tourists in a daze trying to get out of this resort as fast they can. Some of the sidewalks throughout this large, pedestrian mall in the resort are splattered with blood, and bloody footprints are all over as injured people ran last night in a panic during the bombings. And then there are others here, trying to carry on with their holiday as if nothing happened, wandering around in their swimsuits, sipping beer, heading out for the next coral reef dive expedition. Local shopkeepers are despondent over friends who were killed last night, and the destruction and the loss of their businesses. I talked to one jewelry storeowner where the third bomb went off.

He sat most of day amid the rubble of his shop--the broken glass, the debris and the metal--weeping and devastated. And several spontaneous demonstrations have sprung up, with teenagers chanting, walking through the streets, shouting, you know, no, no to terrorism and other slogans.

MONTAGNE: Have officials there released any information about who might be responsible?

WESTERVELT: There's been no direct claim of responsibility. Some police I've talked to here say these attacks bear the hallmarks of al-Qaida, or groups ideologically affiliated with that terrorist network. But the bombs used last night were not that powerful compared to the other resort attacks. In those, very powerful car bombs and suicide attackers struck in a coordinated assault. These were most likely smaller bombs in satchels left behind and detonated by remote control. So, some security people here are speculating was more of a home-grown Egyptian group, perhaps with some sympathies for al-Qaida, but far more interested in inflicting damage on the local economy and embarrassing the government of Hosni Mubarak than taking part in any broader, global jihad.

MONTAGNE: Eric, like the two earlier bombings at Egyptian resorts, this one occurred as people were celebrating a holiday. Tell us about the holiday.

WESTERVELT: That's right. Most Egyptians are off this week. It's kind of a spring vacation time. Yesterday was Sinai Independence Day, celebrating Egypt's repossession of the Sinai after the Camp David peace accords with Israel. It's also the Orthodox Easter week here as well, and many people are on vacation. And the previous resort bombings, as you mentioned-in Taba in late 2004 in Sharm El Sheik last July-also came during busy holiday and vacation periods, and this is the third large-scale attack on these resorts in the last year and half. These vacation spots are proving tempting, relatively soft targets for terrorists. For all these attacks, there doesn't seem to be an urgent sense of heightened security, here. Driving in today, we were stopped several check points that looked good, but the Egyptian police were just waving everyone through in between sips of tea, with hardly a glance at people's passports, ID's--let alone the trunks of their cars.

MONTAGNE: And then, what implications do these bombings have for the Egyptian government?

WESTERVELT: Well, there is a lot of anger at the government of Hosni Mubarak and his autocratic way of governing, and his reaction to the attacks, as I said, three attacks in a short period. There's frustration more hasn't been done to stop the bombers, and in the past, the government has opted for some heavy-handed tactics, rounding up large groups of people, many of whom were later found to have no connection to the attacks. That approach has just further alienated local people. You combine that with the recent tragedy of a ferry sinking, where hundreds of people were killed, and there's a lot of growing resentment and anger at the government and its response.

MONTAGNE: Eric, thanks very much. That's NPR's Eric Westervelt in the Egyptian resort town of Dahab, where three bombs exploded yesterday, killing at least 23 people.

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