10 arrested in bombings; 24 killed during holiday

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DAHAB, Egypt (AP) – Egyptian authorities, already struggling with elusive terror cells in the rugged Sinai Peninsula, moved quickly Tuesday – arresting 10 men in the triple bombings that ripped apart a crowded resort town, killing 24 on a warm, tranquil holiday evening.

Radical Muslim groups moved just as rapidly to distance themselves from the Dahab attacks.

The leader of Egypt’s banned Muslim brotherhood condemned the bombings as “aggression on human souls created by God.” The militant Palestinian Hamas organization called them a “criminal attack which is against all human values.”

Many frightened tourists fled the area after Monday’s blast, which bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida and was the third terrorist attack on a Sinai resort in less than two years to coincide with a national holiday.

Egyptian authorities – despite sweeps by thousands of troops and hundreds of arrests after the earlier attacks – appeared increasingly frustrated by the ease with which terrorists continue to hit the tourism industry that is so important to the Sinai Peninsula. It brought in $6.4 billion in 2005 and is the top source of foreign currency.

“This incident is addressed to the whole of Egypt, there is no reason for it other than an attempt to destroy the economy of Egypt by attacking tourism,” Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said as he visited blast victims in a hospital.

President Hosni Mubarak, who oversees a stagnant economy with unemployment rising in lockstep with the population explosion, called the attack a “sinful terrorist action.”

Arabs throughout the Middle East also expressed outrage, signaling a growing backlash against al-Qaida-linked groups as fellow Muslims increasingly bear the terrorism brunt. Of the 24 dead in Dahab, 21 were Egyptians.

The attacks came one day after al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden urged Muslims to support al-Qaida in what he called a war against Islam.

Radical Muslim groups like Hamas have been careful to say that their attacks are aimed only against Israel, and not part of a worldwide radical Islamic jihad.

“I don’t think these people care” if Muslims or Arabs are killed. “They’ll carry on at any price,” music teacher Lara Darwazah, 31, said in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The blasts were so powerful that police divers worked Tuesday to retrieve body parts from the shallow waters of the sea, as workers swept shards of glass from the streets. At one spot near the beach, two black sandals lay in a pool of blood on a wooden footbridge.

Nearby, outside the supermarket where one explosion occurred, a tiny shoe covered in blood lay on top of a baby stroller. Witnesses said the stroller belonged to foreign twin infants who they said looked European.

One twin was inside the shop with the mother when the blast took place, and the other outside in the stroller, said Mohammed Emad, 16, who sells spices at the market and whose hand was hurt by flying glass.

The teenager said he went with the mother and twins to hospital, where one of the twins died and the mother remained severely injured. “I pushed the stroller away out of the doorway” after the blast, he said.

Interior Minister Habib el-Adly said it wasn’t clear if the attack could have been carried out by a group as organized as those who detonated the earlier bombs.

“The devices used were not of the types which would have caused big destruction,” he said.

El-Adly put the death toll at 23, including three foreigners. But Sinai hospital officials said Tuesday that an Egyptian man had died of his wounds, bringing the toll to 24. The German Foreign Ministry said a 10-year-old German boy was among those killed.

Dr. Hazem Ahmed of Sharm el-Sheik Hospital said 85 people were wounded.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Tuesday that four U.S. citizens were hurt, but their injuries were not believed to be life-threatening.

“We share the government (and) people of Egypt’s grief at this attack,” Ereli said. “We are, as ever, ready to work with them to confront the threat that we all face from international terror.”

All three Sinai bombings were timed to Egyptian national holidays when resorts were especially crowded with local tourists and foreigners who flock to the seaside towns with world-renowned beaches and extraordinary reefs.

Taba and Ras Shitan in the northern Sinai near the Israeli border were attacked, and 34 people were killed, in October 2004, a day before the holiday marking the start of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

On July 23, 2005 – Egypt’s national day – suicide bombers killed 64 people, mainly tourists, in Sharm el-Sheik on the southern tip of the Sinai.

Monday’s bombings occurred on the eve of Sinai Liberation Day, when Egypt regained full control of the peninsula from Israel in 1986. The tourist population was swollen further by the coincidence of the long Coptic Christian Easter weekend and an ancient Egyptian holiday to mark the start of spring.

Egypt’s Sinai resorts are a tempting target for Islamic militants who were jailed by Mubarak or fled to safer territory and became even more radical, such as Egyptian physician Ayman al-Zawahri, who left for Afghanistan and became the No. 2 al-Qaida leader.

The isolated and desolate peninsula also has become a favored Israeli holiday destination, making bombings there both a symbolic attack on Israelis and an assault to undermine Mubarak’s authority and rattle his tenuous economy.

Security police said three of the 10 men detained had arrived in Dahab Sunday and were trying to leave the resort 15 minutes after the explosions in a car with fake license plates.

The World Economic Forum, meanwhile, said it would go ahead with plans to hold a meeting of Middle Eastern government and business leaders in Sharm-el-Sheik on May 20-22.

“For the sake of a more peaceful future for humankind we have to show our solidarity by holding this meeting,” Klaus Schwab, the Geneva-based convener of the forum, said in a letter to Mubarak.

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