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Toll Rises from Blasts at Egyptian Resort


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

The worst terrorist attack ever on Egypt has occurred overnight at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh. A series of explosions has killed 83 people and that number may rise. More than a hundred were injured. Among the victims are Jordanians, Israelis, Britons, Dutch, Germans and, of course, Egyptians. A group linked to al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the Sharm el Sheikh blast in an Internet posting that has not been verified. Sharm el Sheikh is a popular resort area and host of the recent cease-fire announcement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Cairo.

Peter, thank you for being with us.

PETER KENYON reporting:

Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And our information is at least two of the explosions are now believed to have been car bombs; we're hearing another bomb went off on a promenade. What more do you know?

KENYON: Well, Sharm el Sheikh is basically laid out on the very southern tip on the Sinai peninsula. Many of these luxury hotels are isolated, difficult to reach; basically, guards at the front of very long driveways. Now there's one exception to that and that's Naama Bay, where you have a cluster of hotels, shops and restaurants quite close to the main road, and that's where two car-bomb attacks hit overnight. The one that appears to have done the most damage broke into the driveway of the Ghazala Gardents Hotel, basically destroyed the entire front of that 4-star hotel.

A second bomb hit the Moevenpick Hotel across the street, where numerous VIPs have stayed at various diplomatic summits over the years. There was another explosion, as you said, near a market area not far away. Witnesses used terms such as `utter mayhem, mass hysteria' to describe the aftermath. Some of the more than a hundred wounded are reportedly in critical condition. Dozens have already been evacuated to Cairo for treatment. Most of the dead, it appears, are Egyptians, although some foreign nationals were also killed and there's many bodies yet to be identified.

SIMON: Last October, as we recall, there were bombs at another resort in Taba, and in that case the Egyptian government said that Israeli tourists seemed to be the primary target of attack. Is it too early to try and determine what the human targets were in this case?

KENYON: It is too early. There's one Egyptian official saying he sees a link between the earlier bombings in Taba and these bombings. But we have to say this Web site claim of responsibility--the name is similar to that that claimed responsibility for Taba, but it was not posted on what analysts considered a usual Islamist Web site. So the authenticity of this claim is still very much in question and it refers to avenging the deaths of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya.

Egyptian authorities have also, we must say, been extremely tight-lipped about their investigation into the nine-month-old Taba bombings now. They have suggested a Palestinian-led and unaffiliated group was probably targeting Israelis. Israelis do also visit Sharm el Sheikh, but a large portion of the tourist trade also comes from Europe, Asia and the Gulf states.

SIMON: President Mubarak has a home in Sharm el Sheikh, spends, I believe, it's much of the summer there. It's a real--winter, I beg your pardon.


SIMON: It's a real engine for the tourist industry in Egypt; therefore, foreign currency. Can we anticipate what kind of reaction and concern that Egyptian government's going to evince?

KENYON: Well if history's any guide, the crackdown could be quite severe. There are still large numbers of Sinai peninsula residents being held in custody in the wake of those Taba bombings from nine months ago. And in targeting Sharm el Sheikh, as you know, the attackers are very likely to arouse the anger of Hosni Mubarak, who's very proud of this resort, spends a good portion of each year here--there. He has generally kept the security tighter there than in most parts of Egypt, and so the fact that this very deadly sneak attack on this scale could occur in a well-guarded, isolated town, I think it does seem likely to spark an aggressive response from Egypt's security services.

SIMON: NPR's Peter Kenyon speaking from Cairo, thanks very much.

KENYON: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.