DAHAB, Egypt (AFP) – Egyptian forces arrested 10 suspects over the triple bombings that ripped through the Red Sea tourist resort of Dahab and killed 18 people, including foreigners.
State media said preliminary investigations pointed to links between the attacks in Dahab and two previous strikes in the Sinai peninsula over the past 18 months.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Monday’s attacks, which brought scenes of carnage to Dahab, a resort in the Sinai peninsula popular with backpackers, divers and Israelis.
“It was like war,” said Michael Hartlich, a German doctor who was holidaying in Dahab. “I’d never seen anything like it before, a child, a baby, blood everywhere, the smell of burnt skin, of burnt hair.”
A security official said on condition of anonymity that at least two of the three almost simultaneous explosions were caused by suicide bombers but this was not officially confirmed.
World leaders united in condemning the attacks, which dealt another blow to the country’s vital tourism industry.
Commentators warned that the latest attacks confirmed Egypt — whose government is a key mediator in the conflict-ridden Middle East — as a favourite Arab target for terror organisations.
Security sources said three of the 10 people detained in Dahab were Egyptian computer engineers carrying fake identification who arrived in the resort on Sunday and left an hour after the attacks.
“Mumen Faruk Mohammed, Ali Karim Ashraf Abdallah and Majed Ali Mahmud arrived in Dahab in a car whose number plate had changed by the time they left,” one source said.
Health and security officials said 12 Egyptians and six foreigners were killed, revising an earlier toll of 23.
On Tuesday, shaken survivors unable to really talk could be seen sifting through the carnage. A child’s bicycle lay twisted in front of the Al Capone restaurant, whose front was shattered by one of the blasts.
No-one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, which came one day after a new audiotape of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden surfaced accusing the “crusaders” of the West of waging war against Islam, referring to the conflict in Darfur and the isolation of the Hamas-led Palestinian government.
Egyptian newspapers linked the latest attacks to previous deadly Sinai bombings in Sharm el-Sheikh in July 2005 and further up the Red Sea coast near the Israeli border in October 2004 which killed a total of more than 100 people.
The state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram said preliminary findings pointed to the involvement of a group calling itself Tawhid wal Jihad (Unification and Holy War).
The newspaper said three detained suspects from the organisation had confessed during recent interrogations to plotting attacks against tourists in the southern Sinai.
Dahab was also packed with Egyptians Monday as the bombers struck on Sham el-Nessim, a traditional holiday which marks the beginning of spring, and a day before Sinai Liberation Day which celebrates Israel’s withdrawal from the peninsula in 1982.
A few dozen Dahab residents held a brief demonstration in the streets of their town Tuesday, carrying banners and chanting slogans rejecting terrorism.
President Hosni Mubarak vowed to track down and punish the perpetrators of the attacks.
Multiple bombings in Sharm el-Sheikh killed some 70 people in July 2005, the deadliest to have hit Egypt since a major wave of Islamist attacks in the mid-1990s.
At least 34 people were also killed in several simultaneous bombings in and around the resort of Taba further up the Red Sea coast near the Israeli border in October 2004.
US President George W. Bush branded the Dahab bombings a “heinous act” while British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged the world to unite against terrorism.
Israel’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper reported that one of the tourists caught up in the attacks was a teenager whose grandmother was killed in last week’s suicide bombing in Tel Aviv carried out by Palestinian group Islamic Jihad.
Tourism is Egypt’s main source of income. According to government figures, a record 8.6 million people visited the country in 2005 despite the deadly attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit called his European counterparts Tuesday and urged them not to modify their travel advisories.
But TUI, Europe’s leading travel and tourism group, said it was suspending all trips and excursions to the Sinai peninsula in the wake of the bombings.
Information Minister Anas al-Fekki said he was confident however that the industry would survive. “I don’t think it will affect tourism. We’ve been through this many times and we will recover.”