Suicide Bombers Hit International Force in Sinai

In another terrorist attack in the Sinai Peninsula, two suicide bombers strike outside a base of the multinational peacekeeping force. There have also been reports of a gunbattle between police and militants in the Nile delta.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

There were two more bombings in Egypt's Sinai Desert today. A pair of suicide bombers killed only themselves in an attack near the main base of the multinational peacekeeping force in the northern Sinai. That is near Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip. The attacks came less than 48 hours after a triple bombing in the Sinai resort of Dahab that left some two dozen people dead.

Late today, Egypt's interior minister said all the bombings were linked to attacks that took place in 2004 at the resorts of Sharm el Sheik and Taba. The minister said that the perpetrators are Sinai Bedouin.

ROBERT SIEGEL host:

NPR's Eric Westervelt joins us now. He's in the Sinai, near the city of Taba. And, Eric, what can you tell us about today's attacks?

ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:

Well, Robert, the first suicide bomber blew himself up as two members of the peacekeeping force, called the Multinational Force and Observers, were driving with two Egyptian officials just north of the observer's main base in the Sinai. The bomber killed only himself and caused some minor damage, but no one in the car was seriously injured.

And then just a few miles away, a second suicide bomber, riding a bicycle, struck an Egyptian police car that was speeding to the scene of the first bombing. And like in that first attack, no one in the car was seriously injured.

SIEGEL: Now you have to remind us, the Multinational Force was established in the Egyptian/Israeli Peace Treaty. What is the mandate exactly of the Multinational Force in the Sinai?

WESTERVELT: Well, they're an independent peacekeeping force, as you said, established after the 1979 Peace Treaty. Their framework is outside of the United Nations. They report directly to both Egypt and Israel. Eleven countries contribute troops. For example, the two soldiers lightly injured today, Robert, one was from New Zealand and one was from Norway.

SIEGEL: Eric, what do people there make now of three big terror attacks in the Sinai over the past year and a half? Is it just the presence of foreign tourists there that makes these targets attractive to terrorists? Or what else might it be about the Sinai.

WESTERVELT: Some of these tourist spots are, as they say, soft targets. They are lightly defended and despite the fact it's been several previous devastating attacks, the Egyptian authorities do not appear to have made robust attempts to bolster security at these sites. In addition, the terrain is incredibly difficult for any police or security force to patrol or defend.

These are rugged mountains in the Sinai close to the coastline, mountains with difficult, hard to find paths. These routes are mainly known only to the local Bedouin. It's hard for the security forces to move around and effectively patrol the areas.

But you also have to say that the Egyptian security in many parts of the Sinai is just not that good. At checkpoints today, for example, driving north, police and intelligence officers were not conducting robust searches or ID checks at all.

SIEGEL: Even today as these bombings are just taking place this week?

WESTERVELT: That's right. They looked very good when you drove up to them, but actually they were waving a lot of people through and not doing anything close to a deep search of cars or check of Ids, it appeared.

SIEGEL: It's NPR's Eric Westervelt speaking to us from the Sinai Peninsula. Thanks, Eric.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome.

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