SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt, AP – Investigators identified an Egyptian as a possible suicide bomber in the weekend terror attacks at this Red Sea resort and were searching Tuesday for his suspected Islamic militant cohorts — the first break in the probe.
A relative of Moussa Badran told The Associated Press that he disappeared after deadly attacks at two other Sinai resorts in October, and that some family members were detained afterward.
The development came as two security officials revealed that authorities received information of an imminent terror attack in Sharm el-Sheik several days before the bombings Saturday. But they believed casinos would be targeted, so security was increased around those sites, not hotels.
The officials would not say where the tip came from but said headquarters in Cairo told security forces in Sharm to be on alert and to step up measures around key locations.
It appeared authorities chose the wrong possible targets to watch, said one of the officials in Cairo. Both officials are close to the inquiry and spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not authorized for release.
Security was heightened around casinos on the theory they would be attacked because Israelis come to Sharm for gambling, which is banned in their country.
The government has sacked the heads of security in North and South Sinai provinces, an apparent sign of the failures that may have allowed the assault on one of Egypt”s most closely guarded tourist towns.
Instead of going after casinos, bombers in two explosives-laden trucks targeted hotels. One plowed into the Ghazala Gardens reception area, leveling the lobby. A second headed for another hotel but got caught in traffic and blew up before reaching the target. A third explosive device, hidden in a knapsack, went off minutes after the Ghazala blast at the entrance to a beach promenade. As many as 88 people were killed.
Police had been studying two bodies found at the Ghazala as possible bombers because the remains were dismembered. DNA tests identified one of the bodies as that of Moussa Badran, an Egyptian resident of Sinai who police said has links to Islamic militants.
Initially, officials said the body was that of Badran”s brother Youssef. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the release of the details had not been authorized, did not give a reason for the change in identification.
The second body from the Ghazala is still being tested. A third body in Sharm”s Old Market, the site of the other truck explosion, is also being examined as a possible bomber.
Moussa Badran — a resident of Sheik Zawaid, a town near el-Arish in northern Sinai — fled the family house soon after a terror attack last October at two other Red Sea resorts, his stepmother told AP.
Many relatives — including women — were arrested after Badran”s disappearance and tortured, and another brother remains in custody, said the stepmother, Mariam Hamad Salem al-Sawarka.
Hours after the Sharm blast, police took DNA samples from Badran”s father and siblings and from other families with relatives who have gone into hiding since the Taba attacks, al-Sawarka said. She said Youssef Badran moved to another town near Sheik Zawaid several years ago and she had not seen him since.
Investigators have been exploring possible links between Saturday”s attacks and those in October against hotels in the resorts of Taba and Ras Shitan, near the Israeli border. Those earlier attacks killed 34 people, including many Israelis.
Israel warned Israelis a year ago not to visit Egypt, and especially Sinai, because of the possibility terrorists would attack tourist sites. No Israelis are known to have died in the Sharm bombings, although Israeli media have said there were a number of Israelis there at the time.
Security forces detained thousands of people after the October attacks — mainly from the north Sinai area.
This time, across Sinai, security forces took in 70 people for questioning on Tuesday, bringing to 140 the number questioned since Saturday”s attacks. Police detained an unspecified number of people overnight in the villages of Husseinat and Muqataa near the Gaza border.
Security officials in el-Arish said that, based on information from interrogations, they were looking for two other people from the area, Moussa Ayad Suleiman Awda and Ahmed Ibrahim Hamad Ibrahim, in connection with the Sharm attacks.
Investigators are concentrating on the theory that the bombings were carried out by Egyptian militants, but were not excluding the possibility they received international help, the security officials in Cairo said.
They noted that there has been an increasing number of hard-line Islamists in Sinai who may have formed cells. In previous years, the sparsely populated peninsula saw little militant activity, in contrast to the Nile Valley where the majority of Egyptians live and where an Islamic insurgency took hold in the 1990s.
Investigators were looking closely at funding for Islamists in Sinai, possibly from abroad. Large sums have come into the area in recent years, and no one is sure of the source, one of the officials in Cairo said.
Authorities are also trying to learn the origin of the more than 1,100 pounds of explosives used in the Sham attacks. Police said they were exploring the possibility they may have been brought in from Jordan, Saudi Arabia or Israel.
Another possibility was that the bombs were made of old explosives or from explosives used in quarries and hoarded by Sinai”s Bedouin inhabitants.
Police have set up checkpoints on isolated desert roads north of Sharm, entrances to the region that previously had been only loosely guarded. The attackers may have used such roads to reach the resorts.