Bomb Attack Hits Another Egyptian Resort Town

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Two more blasts rocked resort communities in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday, but neither had the devastating impact of the triple bombing in a coastal resort town on Monday that killed at least 18 people. Madeleine Brand speaks with Max Rodenbeck, Cairo-based correspondent for The Economist magazine, about the groups behind the bombings.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, President Bush finds a new press secretary at Fox News.

BRAND: First, though, in Egypt today, a new terrorist attack. Two suicide bombers blew themselves up near the main base of the Multi-National Peacekeeping Force near the Gaza border in Sinai. No other deaths were reported.

This comes two days after a triple bombing in an Egyptian resort town killed at least 18 people. Earlier, I spoke with Max Rodenbeck. He's Middle East correspondent for The Economist magazine about today's attack.

Mr. MAX RODENBECK (Middle East Correspondent, The Economist): Well, it seems that there were two suicide bombers who individually set off bombs near this base.

The details are still a little bit sketchy. It's a pretty remote base. I mean, it's 30 kilometers from the desert border with Israel and Gaza. And, I mean, it's in a remote zone of northern Sinai.

It seems, from what we can understand, that one bomber seems to have attempted to blow himself up near a passing vehicle belonging to the Multi-National Forces, causing injury to no one except himself, and that a separate bomber about half an hour later blew himself up near a police car that was going towards the scene of the first bombing. Again, causing injury to no one except himself.

BRAND: And were they related in any way to Monday's bombings?

Mr. RODENBECK: It's very likely that they were. In the previous attacks on tourist resorts in Sinai, one was last July and the previous one was in October, 2004, the police traced what they believed to be the group responsible to the same region of northern Sinai near the Israeli border. There's a border town called el-Arish there, where the police uncovered a fairly large cell of what they believed to be extremist Islamist radicals who seemed to have been responsible for these previous bombs.

And in a number of shootouts and arrests and so on, the police thought they had more or less busted the whole group. But it turns out that they had not.

So, the general opinion is that both the beach bombings on Monday and today's bombings were likely to have been carried out by the same group that was also responsible for previous attacks.

BRAND: And who is this group? And are they related to al-Qaida?

Mr. RODENBECK: Well, they're related certainly in terms of spirit and in terms of what their general goals are. But in terms of actual organizational links, there do not appear to be any specific evidence.

But there's no question that they seem to be inspired by the same methods. I mean, these bombings along the beaches in Sinai, there have been three of them so far, and each one has been a triple bombing of the same location, which seems to correspond very much with al-Qaida's tactics elsewhere in the world.

BRAND: Well, why Egypt? Why are they focusing on Egypt? Why all these bombings now?

Mr. RODENBECK: Well, one theory that some people have here is that in response to the previous attacks in Sinai, the police now did a very, very large sort of drag net across northern Sinai, arrested lots and lots of people, some of whom were certainly maltreated, perhaps tortured.

Some analysts say that the wave of arrests actually caused a reaction. But I think the more common opinion is simply that this is another cell such as have been found in countries all over the world, from Morocco to Afghanistan to Turkey. They all follow the same ideology as al-Qaida, but not necessarily with a central direction.

In terms of Egyptian local politics, the Sinai Peninsula is kind of divided in two halves. One half is happy and doing very well with the tourist industry. The other half is impoverished and has not much investment or job prospects and has a large pool of unemployed. There seems to be the one half angry at the other half.

The northern part of Sinai has been fertile ground for Islamist extremist groups to gather and to grow and sort of outside of the eye of the government, which tends to concentrate its attentions on big cities like Cairo or tourist areas.

This may be one reason why this group was allowed to grow unchecked, although Egypt is a very closely policed country with a pretty efficient security infrastructure. But to have three strikes in pretty much the same zone within a couple of years is pretty embarrassing to the Egyptian security forces.

BRAND: Max Rodenbeck is Middle East correspondent for The Economist magazine. Thank you very much.

Mr. RODENBECK: Thank you.

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