CAIRO (AP) – Egyptian authorities have arrested seven people for being part of an Al Qaeda linked group accused of carrying out an attack on a famed Cairo bazaar that killed a French teenager, said the Interior Ministry Saturday.
The ministry said the suspects were part of a group called the Palestinian Islamic Army, which is led by two Egyptian nationals, who remain at large outside the country.
The arrested include two Palestinians, two Egyptians, a British-Egyptian, a Belgian-Tunisian and a French-Albanian woman, some of whom had entered Egypt as students. An Egyptian security official said members of the group would sneak into Gaza through tunnels under the Egyptian border to receive special training and instructions in the Palestinian territory.
One of the seven arrested confessed to performing the bombing last February at Cairo’s Khan el-Khalili bazaar, but the official wouldn’t identify him or her.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said the group wanted to target other tourist sites in the country and oil installations in the western desert. He said the organization was able to create weapons and explosive materials from leftover munitions recovered from the Sinai desert. Two women, one of whom was arrested, were responsible for transporting money to fund the organization’s activities.
The blast last February went off in the main square of the sprawling market, which was packed with tourists and Egyptians, including more than 40 high school students from the Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret.
A government spokesman said the bomb was placed under a stone bench in a cafe where the French students were sitting in the square, next to one of Cairo’s most revered shrines, the Hussein mosque. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, which was the first against tourists in Egypt in three years. Islamic extremists have in the past attacked tourists in an attempt to hurt Egypt’s biggest source of income.
Khan el-Khalili, a 650-year-old bazaar of narrow, winding alleys, is one of the top tourist attractions in Cairo, often crowded with foreigners shopping for souvenirs, hanging out in its cafes or visiting its numerous mosques and Islamic monuments. In April 2005, a suicide bomber in the market killed himself, two French citizens and an American.
Several experts on Islamic militancy in Egypt said the attack in February may have been carried out in anger over Egypt’s response to Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip against Hamas in January and early February. During Israel’s onslaught, Egypt came under heavy criticism around the Arab world for what some saw as its failure to help the Palestinians in Gaza.
Egypt fought a long war with Islamist militants in the 1990s, culminating in a massacre of more than 50 tourists in Luxor in 1997. The militants were largely defeated, and there have been few attacks since in the Nile valley. But from 2004 to 2006, a string of bombings in Sharm el-Sheik and other resorts in the Sinai Peninsula killed 120 people.