This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/853
July 23, 2005
'We heard a God almighty bang. Then another, and then another'
By Hugh Miles in Sharm el-Sheikh
With its palm-lined avenues, white sand and clear, warm seas, the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh is dedicated to the art of forgetting the troubles of the outside world.
The main street running along the coast is named Peace Road, in honour of the international summits in pursuit of ceasefires and truces that the resort has hosted over the years.
This weekend, its bars, restaurants and casinos were in full swing with foreign tourists enjoying a summer break alongside thousands of Egyptians who had headed to Sharm el-Sheikh to celebrate National Day.
At about 1.15am, however, Peace Road changed forever. With a succession of blasts that rattled hotel windows up to three miles away, three powerful bombs exploded within minutes of each other.
So loud were the bombs that, at first, many visitors were convinced they were under close-range artillery fire. "We heard a God Almighty blast. The lock popped out of the door, the window frame banged and the glass was shattered," said Jimmy Hayes, a Scot on holiday with his wife, Ann.
"We went out of the hotel like everybody else and I heard another blast, and another and another. I thought people were shelling us. I thought our end had come."
For a few stunned seconds, an eerie silence ensued, as three palls of smoke and flame began billowing into the night sky. "A huge ball of smoke mushroomed up. It was mass hysteria," said Charlie Ives, a police officer from London, who had left behind the terrorist attacks in the capital only to run into another on holiday.
Soon, screams pierced the silence as people began to take in the carnage around them. The beachfront where before hundreds of tourists basked in the heat were covered with shredded flesh. Blood seeped into the sand.
On the road outside the Ghazala Gardens hotel, where the first and most devastating explosion took place, the tarmac was pockmarked and cratered.
"There seemed to be a lot of bodies strewn across the road near one cafe," said Chris Reynolds, a policeman from Birmingham who was on holiday. "It was horrendous."
The hotel had tried to protect itself against the suicide bombers but its barriers and security guards could do nothing to prevent the man who drove his car into the lobby, detonating a massive bomb that collapsed the roof "like a pancake".
Ahmed, a local shopkeeper, told The Sunday Telegraph that he saw the car crash through the barricades, sending a policeman and security guards flying.
"The bomb detonated and the hotel fell in," he said, still visibly shocked some 18 hours later. "There was a huge cloud of dust. I met an Englishman who was looking for his two sons. I tried to look for them too but the roof had fallen in and I couldn't see anything."
By accident or, more likely, by design, the guests fleeing in terror from the Ghazala bomb, many in their nightclothes, sprinted along the main street past the clubs, bars and restaurants and straight into a second blast.
This bomb, left in a sack, went off at a taxi rank next to the Mövenpick Hotel just five minutes later. Yesterday afternoon, the only taxi left parked on the rank was a witness to the savagery of the explosion. Its windows were blown out and streams of congealing blood streaked its flanks. There were standing pools of blood on the tarmac, with pieces of flesh strewn in the gutters. A single, forlorn flipflop, a size that would fit a young girl, lay in the dirt. Even the air smelled charred and burnt.
In the summer heat of Sinai, people come out to eat late at night when the temperatures have come down, making 1am one of the most popular times to go shopping or eat dinner.
Mark Chilton, a British diving instructor, was inside a tavern bar near the main strip of bars and restaurants at the time of the explosion.
"We ran outside to see what was happening after the first bomb. I cleared the bar and checked for packages and then five minutes later the second bomb went off," he told The Sunday Telegraph. "We ran outside and it was carnage, absolute carnage. There were bodies everywhere. Charlie, the bar manager, and I did the triage - sorting out who was dead, who had lost limbs and so on.
"One guy had his arm missing and another guy died in my arms. I tried to give him mouth-to-mouth because he looked fine from above, but he had gone.
"The police were totally overwhelmed. Charlie and I took control whilst we waited for the ambulances to arrive. For half an hour we tried to keep people calm. It reminded me of Belfast."
He believes that he may have seen the remains of the suicide bomber responsible for the Ghazala Gardens bomb. "I saw a torso and some legs blackened and burnt - the guy had been blown in two. I think seven or eight people died on the spot but others had their limbs blown off so more could have died later.
"Sharm is a town that stays awake until four or five in the morning. It was peak time and I am amazed more people weren't killed."
Joanne, 25, a tourist from London who declined to give her full name, said she had come to Egypt to escape the terror scares at home but was lucky to escape with her life.
"I was counting on this holiday to forget the nightmare in London," she said. "I was in the Ghazala hotel when the explosion went off. My room was just behind reception. I was in bed and the bed rocked.
"I would never have believed that I would witness the same nightmare and terror twice in such a short time."
In the Old Souk area, where at least 17 people died, Ashraf, a restaurant owner, said that there was widespread panic as people searched desperately for missing relatives.
"The blast took place at the edge of the souk. It was huge. There were still lots of people on the terraces and shops were still open," he said. "I can't tell how many people were killed but it was carnage. The panic was immediate and I saw a man die of a heart attack."
The death toll reflected how popular Sharm el-Sheikh has become for international tourists. According to Dr Saeed Abdel Fattah, the manager of the Sharm el-Sheik International Hospital where the victims were taken, a total of 88 people were confirmed dead.
Their nationalities included two Britons, he said, two Germans and an Italian. One Czech tourist was also killed, and there were unconfirmed reports that Kuwaitis and Saudis were among the dead.
Egyptian police detained at least 20 people for questioning.
The car which slammed into the Ghazala Gardens was packed with 300kg (660lb) of explosives, police said, while the third bomb in the market - frequented mainly by Egyptians - weighed about 200kg (440lb). The bomb hidden in the sack was smaller. It was detonated near a beachside walkway where tourists often stroll at night.
During the day yesterday, the shops and bars remained shuttered and closed. At the scene of the third blast, police and forensic teams gradually began sifting for evidence.
Every pane of glass for hundreds of yards was shattered in the explosions.
The carcasses of cars litter the street, blackened and burnt, their tyres blown out. The only sound, apart from people rhythmically sweeping up broken glass, was the amplified recitation of the Koran casting an eerie spell over a town in shock, calling the faithful to prayer.
World leaders united to condemn the bombings. Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, who has a house in the resort close to the Mövenpick hotel, toured the devastated bomb scenes where anti-terrorist units scoured the ground for evidence and visited the wounded in Sharm el-Sheikh's hospital.
"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," he said.
"We will press our battle against terror with all our strength and we will not give in to blackmail."
The interior minister, Habib al-Adly, said that in the search for evidence, Egypt had some leads which appeared to show a connection with bomb attacks last October that killed 34 people in Taba, north of Sharm el-Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula.
"We have indications that could lead security services to those responsible for these terrorist operations," he said. "These elements suggest that the bombings may be linked to those that took place in Taba."
The news came as scant comfort to locals, who had hoped that this holiday weekend would kick off a peaceful, prosperous summer season. The resort exists only for tourism; now, their guests are taking flight.
As night fell on the scene of devastation, locals stood around apparently at a loss. If there were people still trapped under the rubble of the devastated Ghazala Gardens, no one was looking for them any more. Bulldozers had been clearing the scene all day; metal and wire protruded from the mass of collapsed concrete. There were no sniffer dogs, no rescuers clambering across the ruins.
With day turning to dusk, a slow-moving line of tourists laden with luggage paused to stare at the devastation even as police officers tried to shoo them on. Incongruously, given the terrible carnage behind them, hotel staff dressed in jaunty yellow uniforms came out into the road with brooms to sweep away the glass littering the road.
Locals looked towards a van containing six policemen and wondered if they would find out who carried out the attacks. In Sharm el-Sheikh last night, the feeling was that the town was no longer in the hands of the police, but in the hands of God.
The death toll is rising after blasts in the Egypt Egyptian tourist resort Sharm el-Sheik on the Sinai Peninsula.
Body bags are loaded into vans as the death toll rises in the Egypt Egyptian tourist resort Sharm el-Sheik on the Sinai Peninsula early Saturday.
CTV.ca News Staff
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak vowed to hunt down the terrorists behind a series of coordinated bombings in the popular Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik, as the death toll rose to 88.
"This cowardly, criminal act is aimed at undermining Egypt's security and stability and harming its people and its guests," said Mubarak, who cut short his vacation to visit the blast sites,.
"This will only increase our determination in chasing terrorism."
More than 119 people were wounded, many of them critically, meaning the death toll could rise.
The three near-simultaneous blasts came within minutes of each other, targeting crowded areas, shortly after 1 a.m. local time. They occurred on on a national holiday marking the 1952 Egyptian Revolution.
In the most devastating attack, Ghazala Gardens Hotel was struck by what witnesses believe was a suicide bomber.
"A suicide car bomber forced the barrier at the entrance of the hotel. A member of the security staff tried to stop him but he sped towards the reception and there was a huge explosion," an unnamed hotel employee told AFP news agency.
Officials said the car was packed with 660 pounds of explosives.
A few hundred metres away, a bomb believed hidden in a sack, went off in a parking lot near the Moevenpick Hotel and popular nightlife spots.
In the Old Market area blast, about four kilometres away, victims were killed as they congregated at an outdoor coffee shop, rescue officials said. According to authorities, the bomb weighed about 440 pounds.
Foreigners among dead
Among the dead were two Britons, two Germans and an Italian, said Dr. Saeed Abdel Fattah, manager of the Sharm el-Sheik International Hospital. Czech officials said one Czech tourist was also killed.
About 43 foreigners are believed to be among the wounded, including 13 Italians, nine Britons, five Austrians, five Germans, four Spaniards, a Czech, an Israeli Arab, two Saudis, two Kuwaitis and a Qatari national.
"Terrorism has no nationality," Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazief told The Associated Press. "This is a terrorist act and ... can't be explained or justified."
So far, no Canadians have been reported among the dead or wounded.
"We've been monitoring the situation since the developments yesterday," Liberal MP Dan McTeague, parliamentary secretary responsible for Canadians abroad, told CTV Newsnet.
"We've just been informed by Egyptian state security officials to our embassy in Cairo that were no Canadians among the dead or injured, and that's been confirmed now by officials there."
Conflicting claims of responsibility
Hours after the bombings, a group claiming ties to al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks on a website. The authenticity of the statement could not be immediately verified.
The group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, al Qaeda, in Syria and Egypt, was one of two groups that also claimed responsibility for October bombings at the Egyptian resorts of Taba and Ras Shitan that killed 34. The group also claimed responsibility for a Cairo bombing in late April.
Later, a previously unknown group calling itself the Holy Warriors of Egypt faxed a statement to newspapers saying they carried out the attacks, listing the names of five people it said were the bombers.
A top Egyptian official said it appeared that the latest bombings were linked to last fall's explosions in Taba.
"We have some clues, especially about the car that was exploded in the Old Market, and investigators are pursuing," said Interior Minister Habib al-Adli.
Canada joins countries in condemnation
The United States, Israel, Canada and several European and Middle Eastern countries condemned the attacks.
"Canada strongly condemns this terrorist act, and we are deeply troubled by such incidents. We extend our deepest sympathies to the victims and their families," Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew said in a statement.
"While the details are still unfolding, this is clearly an act directed against innocent civilians. The perpetrators must be found and brought to justice. Canada condemns all acts of terrorism."
Neighbouring Jordan said it would be immediately tightening security at its tourist sites.
The bombings, which are believed to be Egypt's deadliest terror attack so far, renewed fears of a campaign by Islamic militants to cripple the economy by targeting tourists.
Attacks could cripple tourism industry
"(Sharm el-Sheik) is a very popular tourist destination, not only with foreigners, but also with Egyptians themselves. Certainly, this part of the world has been hit by attacks like this before," CTV Middle East Bureau Chief Janis Mackey Frayer said.
In the 1990s, insurgents targeted tourists in a bid to ruin the economy and bring down the government.
The last major attack had been in 1997 when militants killed 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians at the Pharaonic Temple of Hatshepsut outside Luxor in southern Egypt.
In October 2004, several explosions struck the Taba and Ras Shitan resorts, which are located in the same region as the most recent blasts, killing 34. Officials arrested a large group of people, and said the attacks were connected to Israeli-Palestinian violence.
"Those bombings had a devastating effect on the tourist industry, it was only now starting to get back on its feet, so this is certainly going to be taking a toll on Egypt's economy," Mackey Frayer said.
In April of 2005, explosions in Cairo killed an American man, along with a French man and woman.
About three weeks later, two women opened fire on a tour bus in Cairo, then shot themselves.
Also, a suspect in the earlier April attack died when the bomb he was carrying went off during a police chase. Another seven people, four of them foreigners, were wounded in the violence.
Sharm el-Sheik has become a major player in Egypt's thriving tourism industry after expanding in recent years. It draws Europeans, Israelis, and Arabs from oil-producing Gulf nations and has been host to multiple summits for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/853