Egypt hunts for Pakistani bombing suspects

Egyptian police exchanged fire with gunmen on Monday as they hunted for six Pakistanis suspected of involvement in deadly bombings in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The firefight with Bedouin gunmen erupted in the mountainous interior of the Sinai peninsula, about 30km from the scene of Saturday’s carnage on the coast, security officials said.

It came after police surrounded the nearby villages of Khurum and Rweissat in overnight raids, they said.

“Two Pakistanis had been staying there and it is suspected that the bombs were assembled in this area,” an intelligence source said.

Hospital officials say the trio of bombings—Egypt’s deadliest attacks to date—killed 88 people, while the health and tourism ministries have reported up to 64 confirmed dead.

The resort was packed with tourists when the pre-dawn bombs went off and foreign embassy officials were still in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday as more than 30 bodies were still to be identified and foreigners continued to scramble for flights home.

Pictures of the six Pakistanis believed to have entered Egypt in early July were distributed to police stations in the Sharm el-Sheikh area after the attacks, which followed another bombing spree in Sinai resorts in October.

Their passports were found in an unspecified Sharm el-Sheikh hotel, police said, adding that one of them may have died in the deadly bombings but stressing that the Pakistanis were not necessarily the bombers.

Pakistan under pressure

Pakistani authorities said they have yet to be approached by their Egyptian counterparts about the six suspects.

Pictures of more than 30 other suspects were also distributed, mostly Egyptians as well as internationally wanted terror suspects.

At least 130 people have been arrested in a police dragnet as part of a massive search for the perpetrators of the attack on a hotel, a market and a parking lot that came on the heels of deadly bombings in London.

Pakistan has come under increased international pressure to crack down on Islamic militants after it emerged some of the bombers in the July 7 attacks in London, British Muslims of Pakistani descent, had recently visited the country.

Cairo faced harsh criticism from Israel for failing to boost security following the October bombings in the Sinai resorts of Taba and Nuweiba.

On Monday, the security chief for the south Sinai stepped down, although officials stressed he was being replaced as part of normal rotations.

Police said about 600kg of explosive were used in the attacks, more than half in the suicide car bomb that rammed into the luxury Ghazala Gardens hotel.

The first explosion—also a suicide car bomb—struck at 1.15am local time at the market but was actually destined for a hotel 200m away, the sources said.

Police stopped the car for inspection and the explosive charge was then detonated.

They said it was unclear if the bomber had died.

The second explosion at Ghazala Gardens hit minutes later, followed by third when a bomb placed inside a bag went off, police said. The suicide bomber died in the Ghazala blast.

Attempts to ‘destabilise’ Egypt

Saturday’s pre-dawn attacks, which analysts said were an attempt to destabilise Egypt in the run-up to the first competitive presidential election on September 7, were first claimed by an al-Qaeda-linked group.

Another group calling itself Mujahedeen Egypt also claimed the attacks on an Islamic website and gave the names of five “martyrs”. According to various reports, the foreign victims included four Turkish nationals, an Italian couple and two Britons, as well as holidaymakers from the Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Russia, Ukraine and an Israeli Arab.

The interior ministry suggested the attacks could be connected to deadly anti-Israeli bombings on October 7 in Taba and Nuweiba further north on the Sinai coast.

“This cowardly and criminal act, which is aimed at destabilising Egypt, will reinforce our determination to press the battle against terror through to its eradication,” President Hosni Mubarak said on Saturday.

The bombings dealt a blow to Egypt’s crucial tourism industry by striking its flagship resort at the peak of the holiday season.

As shell-shocked holidaymakers arrived back in their home countries, some of them with light wounds and scratches, about 700 Sharm el-Sheikh residents and foreigners working in the resort city held a peace demonstration, chanting “We are against terrorism” and “United we will win”.

A new scare on Sunday hit the Egyptian capital, Cairo, scene of deadly attacks against tourists in the 1990s, where police initially said a man was critically wounded by the accidental explosion of his own bomb.

However, the interior ministry later denied there had been a bomb.—Sapa-AFP

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