Saturday, July 23, 2005

Terror in Paradise: al-Qaeda Strikes Egyptian Resort Town of Sharm el-Sheikh; Over 88 Killed

Early on Saturday morning, a series of three bombings ripped apart a hotel and a coffee shop in and around Sharm el-Sheikh, an Egyptian resort spot on the Red Sea that is popular with Europeans, Israelis (Jews and Arabs), and wealthy Arabs. The two car bombs and one satchel bomb were set off around 1:15 a.m., when tourists frequent Sharm el-Sheikh's many clubs and bars. It is not known as of yet whether suicide bombers were involved. Currently, estimates put the number of dead at between 88 and 90 people, but these numbers may rise in coming days as cleanup crews begin to sift through the debris; over 200 people were wounded.

Early claims of responsibility have been made by a group that says it is connected to al Qaeda, but not independent verification has taken place yet. This group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, takes its name from a radical Jordanian cleric who was one of Osama bin Laden's mentors during the war in Afghanistan that pitted Muslim fighters (mujahideen) backed by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, against the invading Soviet Union. Azzam (left) was assassinated in 1989; it is unknown who was behind his murder. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades claim to have cells operating in both Egypt and Syria; they were one of two groups to claim responsibility for bombings in Taba and Ras Shitan, both located in the Sinai, that killed 34 people on October 7, 2004.

In an interview broadcast on state television, Egyptian Tourism Minister Ahmed el-Maghrabi said, "What happened early this morning is rejected by all people. These criminal gangs will not be able to prevent people from travelling and moving."

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country since 1981, said of Saturday's bombings, "Terrorism is still approaching us from time to time with its ugly face. It is a blind terrorism which is expanding all over the world, terrorizing people and targeting them everywhere." He has vowed to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. Almost immediately after the bombings, Egyptian security forces went into action, rounding up dozens of potential suspects and witnesses. Egypt's formidable security services are known for using physical torture in their campaigns against opponents of the ruling government, both militant and non-militant.

Saturday's attacks were the bloodiest since November 17, 1997, when Egyptian militants gunned down 58 tourists, four Egyptian civilians, and three Egyptian policemen in Luxor, along the Nile River.

To view stories with additional information on Saturday's terrorist attacks, see:

The Al-Qaeda/Egypt Connection
Despite the lack of independent verification of the claims made by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, there seems little reason to doubt that today's terrorist attacks were indeed the work of an al Qaeda affiliate. Although Egypt's homegrown Islamic political movement, the Ikhwan al-Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood) abandoned armed resistance against the Egyptian government decades ago, after severe crackdowns by Presidents Gamal 'Abd al-Nasir and Anwar al-Sadat in the 1960s and 1970s, the country is also the home of two extremist organizations, Gama al-Islamiyya and al-Jihad. Of the two, al-Jihad is the most violent.

Al-Jihad, which was headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri (right, shown facing camera with Osama bin Laden), the Egyptian medical doctor and veteran of the war in Afghanistan who is currently al Qaeda's operational chief, has carried out a number of attacks, both inside and outside of Egypt. In October 1981, they assassinated President Sadat in Cairo; in August 1993, they assassinated Interior Minister Hassan al-Alfi; in November 1993, they assassinated Prime Minister Atef Sedky; and in 1995, they bombed the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. According to intelligence sources, al-Jihad merged with al Qaeda in 2001 and has not carried out a successful attack inside of Egypt since late 1993.

For more information on al-Jihad, taken from a report issued in 2004 by the U.S. Department of State, see:

For more information on al-Jihad taken from a report published by the Monterey Institute of International Studies, see:

See below for more photos of Saturday's attacks:

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