Cairo blast sparks fears of campaign against tourists

An explosion at an outdoor bazaar popular with tourists in Cairo's old city yesterday killed up to four people and wounded around 18 others. One witness said a man on a motorcycle set off a bomb in the middle of a group of foreigners.

The blast - the first attack targeting foreigners in the Egyptian capital in more than seven years - was near the al-Azhar mosque; the wounded included more than 10 Egyptians, two Americans, two Turks, two Italians, two French citizens and a Briton, the health ministry said. Two of the dead were believed to be a French woman and an American man.

The blast rocked al-Moski street, a narrow lane of tourist shops and clothes sellers - often crammed with foreigners and Egyptian shoppers - near the main bazaar of Khan al-Khalili.

Rabab Rifaat, an Egyptian woman who was shopping in a store several yards from the blast, said she heard "a boom, a horrible sound. Everyone started running". She then saw a head flying through the air. A large, organised tour group was in the street, buying items at a market when the explosion went off, she said. Six or seven people were seen lying on the ground afterwards and an Egyptian man ran with burns on his back and his clothes torn, Ms Rifaat said. It was unclear if those on the ground were dead or wounded.

Police said they were trying to establish whether the blast was accidental or deliberate.

Hundreds of police sealed off the area. Tourists remained in Khan al-Khalili, several hundred yards away, outside the police cordon.

The Khan is the most famous of a number of closely packed bazaars near al-Azhar, one of the most prestigious Islamic institutions in the Sunni Muslim world. Egypt has largely been calm since it suppressed a fierce campaign of violence by Islamic militants seeking to overthrow the government in the 1990s.

The last militant attacks came in late 1997. In September that year, two gunmen fired automatic rifles at a tour bus outside the Egyptian Museum in central Cairo, killing 10 - mostly German tourists. A month later, militants killed 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians in an attack at a pharaonic temple in Luxor, southern Egypt.

Last October, explosions hit several hotels in the Sinai peninsula, including one in the resort of Taba, killing 34, and authorities have linked the blast to Israeli-Palestinian violence.

The Islamic insurrection began in earnest in Egypt in 1992. An early casualty was a British woman killed in an attack on a bus near Dairut. Farag Foda, a writer critical of Muslim extremism, was then shot dead by a gunman on a motorcycle. After yesterday's blast, fears of a new wave of terrorism are bound to grip the capital once more.

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