Egypt arrests suspects over deadly bazaar bombing

24th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

Sunday's attack was the first deadly violence since 2006 against Westerners in Egypt, where the tourism industry is a vital foreign currency earner.

Cairo -- Egyptian police said on Monday they have arrested three suspects over a bomb attack at a famed Cairo bazaar that killed a French teenager and wounded 25 people, most of them tourists.

Sunday's attack was the first deadly violence since 2006 against Westerners in Egypt, where the tourism industry is a vital foreign currency earner.

The bomb blast ripped through a square lined with cafes and restaurants in Khan al-Khalili, a market dating from the 14th century that is one of the Egyptian capital's main tourist attractions.

"Three people there were arrested on the scene as suspects after the attack," a police official said. "Around 15 others are being questioned as witnesses."

There has been no claim of responsibility but analysts said the attack could have been the work of an isolated Islamist cell.

"This act highlights social and political unease but appears to be the work of an individual or a group acting in isolation," said Amr Shubaki, a researcher at the Al-Ahram centre of strategic studies.

However, General Fuad Allam, former head of the state security service, warned the attack could herald "a new wave of terrorism in Egypt," spurred by the global financial crisis and the region's problems.

The dead 17-year-old French girl was part of a tour group of 54 teenagers from the Paris region who were on a trip to buy souvenirs in the market before heading home on Monday.

Most have been flown home but three remain in hospital, officials said.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he hopes the three can return to France on a hospital aircraft on Tuesday.

"There was a very powerful explosion. Then screams and blood. We all started running," said Romy Janiw, 28, one of the adults accompanying the teenagers.

It was the first deadly attack on tourists in Cairo since a bombing in the same neighbourhood killed two tourists and wounded 18 in 2005.

A series of bombings from 2004 to 2006 killed a total of 130 people in Red Sea resorts on the Sinai Peninsula that were blamed on militants loyal to Al-Qaeda.

Sunday's attack took place outside a hotel across the square from the Hussein mosque, one of Egypt's oldest places of worship, and witnesses said the force of the blast shook the surrounding buildings.

It wounded 17 French tourists, one of them seriously, as well as a 37-year-old German, three Saudis and four Egyptians, officials said.

There were conflicting accounts about how the attack was carried out.

Witnesses and a police official told AFP two rudimentary bombs were thrown from a rooftop overlooking the street. The second device failed to detonate and was blown up in a controlled explosion, a police source said.

Kouchner, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting in Brussels, said: "It is very disturbing to think that some people on the rooftops threw very deadly bombs at random into the crowd."

However, the prosecutor's office said a homemade bomb went off under a concrete bench, creating a 30 cm (one foot) crater and shattering the bench.

The attack drew condemnation from Muslim leaders and Middle East governments including regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, whose nationals were among the wounded. Iran said the attack served only the interests of arch foe Israel.

Sheikh Mohammed Sayyed al-Tantawi, head of Cairo's Al-Azhar University -- Sunni Islam's highest religious authority -- branded those who carried out the bombing as "traitors to their own religion and their nation."

Last year, 13 million tourists visited Egypt, earning 11 billion dollars in revenue. The industry also employs 12.6 percent of the workforce.

Egypt has been afflicted by violence throughout its modern history. President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by an Islamist group in 1981 and his successor Hosni Mubarak has been the target of a dozen attacks in 28 years in power.

The country lives under a state of emergency, allowing arbitrary detention, which has been repeatedly renewed pending finalisation of an anti-terror law.

Alain Navarro/AFP/Expatica

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