At least 26 killed as bombs rock Egyptian resorts
Vacation areas popular with Israeli tourists
Friday, October 8, 2004
A victim of one of the explosions is rushed to an Israeli hospital.
TABA, Egypt (CNN) - Following the bombings of three Egyptian resorts popular with vacationing Israelis - attacks that killed at least 26 people and wounded dozens more - a top Israeli official Friday said al Qaeda is most likely to blame. At least 39 people are missing and officials fear the death toll will rise.
Israel's Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim said the attacks bear all the hallmarks of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network or one of its offshoots, although he said he's not ruling out the possibility that the attack was staged by a Palestinian militant group.
Egyptian officials said authorities were still working to determine the exact source of the explosions, although they are calling it an attack on the hotel.
There has been no claim of responsibility.One powerful explosion ripped through the 400-room Hilton Hotel at Taba, a Red Sea resort just across Egypt's border with Israel, about 100 yards from a border crossing point. CNN's Ben Wedeman said the west side of the hotel was demolished in the blast.
According to a senior Israeli government source, the blast was caused by a truck bomb that crashed into the hotel lobby. A possible second blast was believed triggered by a suicide bomber around the pool area.
At least 22 people were killed in the Taba bombings and more than 120 wounded, with emergency vehicles carrying Israelis across the border for treatment, Israeli security officials said. The British Foreign Office said two Britons were among those wounded, but their injuries were not serious.
Mustafa Afifi, the governor of the Sinai Peninsula, told Egyptian television that the region's hospitals received three dead - two Egyptians and one Israeli - and 13 wounded.
The bombing in Taba marks the deadliest terrorist attack on an Israeli target outside of Israel. Guests at the hotel said a metal detector screened people as they entered the hotel lobby but that there was no security preventing vehicles from pulling up to the front of the facility. Israeli police officials said forensic scientists were sent to the scene.
About two hours after the attack, two other bombs went off in nearby camping areas in Ras al Sultan and the village of Tarabeen near Nuweiba, Israeli radio said.
Afifi said those blasts were the result of truck bombs that killed at least two people - an Egyptian and an Israeli. Ten others were wounded in the attacks, he said.
In Taba, dozens of ambulances and emergency vehicles were on the scene shortly after the blast, and police cordoned off streets around the Hilton. Video showed people walking in a daze, while emergency crews scrambled to tend to the wounded.
Ambulances from Israel filtered across the border into Egypt, but only after delays approaching 30 minutes, a hotel guest said. Israeli rescue teams said initially Egyptian border guards were only allowing one Israeli ambulance in and one ambulance out at a time, but said cooperation has been good since that time.
By midmorning Friday, Israeli tourists were pouring across the border to leave Egypt, following a call by Jerusalem for citizens to return home. The border into Egypt was closed except to emergency personnel, who were bringing in heavy equipment to move the blast rubble. One witness described the blast as the "gates of hell."
Israelis Jackie Miller and Zia Hazan were in the hotel's casino at the time of the bombing. Miller said she heard a big explosion, followed by the sounds of people panicking and running everywhere.
Hazan said she tried to return to the hotel lobby a short time after the blast, but it was not there. Just a short time earlier, an entertainer was performing there for children whose parents were gambling in the casino.
Jacob Hart, the deputy director of the Josftal Hospital in Eilat, Israel, told CNN the hospital had received 80 wounded, of which about seven had "medium to severe" injuries. "The most severe cases are still in the area of the hotel," he said, adding that the hospital was told to prepare for more wounded.
The Israeli government had warned its citizens against traveling to the Sinai Peninsula during the holidays due to the potential threat of terrorist attacks. Immediately following the explosions Thursday, the government requested that Israeli citizens in Egypt be allowed quick entry back into Israel without passport examinations.
Injured Israelis are helped into an ambulance after the Hilton Hotel blast.
At least two Israeli helicopters carrying medics were allowed to enter Egypt to tend to the wounded. Israeli consular officials were flying from Cairo to Taba.
Itzik Hai, the manager of the Israeli side of the border crossing at Eilat and Taba, told Israeli radio that they were "moving ambulances there as best we can." "Egyptians are allowing people to cross back into Israel," he said. "We're in contact with Egyptian officials on the other side of the border and coordinating with them."
He said 30,000 Israelis had crossed the border into Egypt for the start of the holidays and that about 10,000 were believed to still be there. "We're allowing all to cross back, with or without passports," Hai said. Thursday marked the the end of the Succoth holiday and the beginning of Simchat Torah, which celebrates the Torah.
Thursday's bombings brought to mind the November 2002 attack in the Kenyan city of Mombasa, when three suicide bombers blew up the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel, killing 12 people. That blast came just after assailants fired two missiles at an Israeli charter plane carrying 271 people but missed their target. Those attacks were blamed on al Qaeda.