Egypt unites against bombers

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The Independent Online

Egypt was last night contemplating the devastating human and economic costs of the multiple bombing attack, which killed scores of people in the country's most popular diving and coastal resort.

The potential damage to tourism was underlined last night when around 2,000 local hotel and other service traders and workers staged a rare public demonstration against the three bombings which killed a still disputed number of Egyptians and foreign tourists in the early hours of Saturday.

The demonstration, which had clearly been allowed by the normally protest-allergic authorities, was held outside the wreckage of the Ghazala Gardens Hotel where the largest number of casualties among foreigners - including Britons - took place.

There was continued confusion both over the death toll - with Egyptian officials declaring it as 64 in contrast to widespread estimates that it was 88 - and unconfirmed reports that two Britons had been among the dead. Three injured Britons were detained in Sharm el Sheikh International Hospital and two others, in a serious condition, were in hospital in Cairo after being airlifted to the Egyptian capital.

While Egyptian police struggled to identify 34 bodies, some of them mutilated, more than 70 people were detained in the town and elsewhere in the Sinai Peninsula, but without any sign of a real lead in identifying the perpetrators of the attack.

As Alberto Gonzalez, the US Attorney General, suggested that both the Egyptian and London bombings had been the work of al-Qa'ida, diplomatic observers here and some Egyptian analysts saw the attack as one by extreme Islamic fundamentalists which had Egypt, as a secular Arab country, as its strategic target rather than foreign tourists.

Observers pointed out the attack came on Egypt's national day, and coincided with the opening of the election campaign of President Hosni Mubarak who made a widely publicised visit to the town to meet the injured on Saturday.

The attack was carried out at a location designed to inflict the maximum economic damage as well as one in which Egypt interacts with the West through tourism and in which bikini clad tourists enjoy its beaches and sought-after diving and snorkelling.

Egyptian officials told the Associated Press that four men had driven into Sharm along desert tracks from the north of the city while hiding around 400 kgs (880 lbs) of explosives in their vehicles.

Two of the men left a green Isuzu packed with explosives in the Old Market area. Itexploded after apparently being set off by a timing device, the officials said. The officials suggested the other two had been planted by two other men using a white pick-up truck.

Local employees of at least two European travel companies Thomson and the Italian InViaggi estimated that up to 50 per cent of their clients had taken up offers to cut short their holidays and fly home. InViaggi's local tour leader said two flights had arrived half-empty from Naples and Rome since the bombing and added that 35 out of an expected 150 rooms would be filled by the company this week. "I hear the English and Russians are still coming, but I don't think the Italians will," he said.

One Northern Ireland couple, Chris Sinclair and his wife, Danny, left the resort half way through their two-week honeymoon after their hotel window was blown in by the blast at the Ghazala Gardens less than 100 metres away. The seriously injured British girl in hospital in Cairo is believed to have been on the balcony of the Ghazala Gardens Hotel when the blast occurred.