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Blasts Kill 18 in Egyptian Resort City

April 24, 2006

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Three nearly simultaneous explosions rocked the Egyptian resort city of Dahab on Monday, killing at least 18 people and wounding more than 150 at just one hotel in an apparent terror attack at the height of the tourist season.

Police said the explosions hit the central part of the city where there are many shops, restaurants, bars and guesthouses. The blasts ripped through the town shortly after nightfall when the streets would have been jammed with tourists, mainly with Europeans, Israelis and expatriates living in Egypt.

Dr. Said Essa, who runs the rescue squad, said 18 people and more than 150 were wounded at the el-Khaleeg Hotel only. He said there were casualties from the other explosions but he did not know how many.

A witness, Serge Loussararian, told CNN that an explosion took place in an area with restaurants and bars. ``We heard the explosion and then we saw a big light. And a lot of people running,″ he said.

Another witness said the Al Capone restaurant, one of the resort area’s most popular spots, was destroyed.

``At the restaurant, there is nothing there. The tables and chairs have gone, there is nothing left,″ said Joseph Nazir, who owns a safari company in Dahab. ``Everybody is panicking, a lot of people are crying. We will be affected by this for a long, long time.″

British tourist Paul McBeath said he heard the explosions at about 7.15 p.m. and told Sky News that there had been ``no warning whatsoever.″

``There were just three loud bangs and people rushing around,″ McBeath said. ``Everybody is shaken.″

Terrorist attacks have killed nearly 100 people at several tourist resorts of Egypt’s Sinai region in the past two years.

Bombings in the resorts of Taba and Ras Shitan, near the Israeli border, killed 34 people in October 2004. Last July, suicide attackers in the resort of Sharm el-Sheik killed at least 64 people, mainly tourists.

The Egyptian government has said the militants who carried out the bombings were locals without international connections, but other security agencies have said they suspect al-Qaida.

In Washington, a U.S. counterterrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in compliance with office policy, said that it is unclear who is behind Monday’s attack. U.S. officials have not ruled out the possibility that al-Qaida may be involved, but have no evidence showing that’s the case.

Nor do officials have any evidence that Osama bin Laden’s tape, released Sunday, was linked to the attack, said the counterterrorism official.

President Bush condemned the explosions and pledged to bring terrorists to justice.

``I strongly condemn the killings that took place, the innocent life lost in Egypt,″ Bush said. ``This is a heinous act against innocent civilians.″

``The United States sends our condolences to the families of those who were killed,″ Bush said. ``We keep those were injured in our thoughts and prayers and I assure the enemy this _ we will stay on the offense, we will not waver, we will not tire, we will bring you to justice for the sake of peace and humanity.″

For years, Dahab was popular, low-key haven for young Western backpackers _ including Israelis _ drawn by prime scuba diving sites and cheap hotels, which mainly consisted of huts set up along the beach. In recent years, a number of more upscale hotels have been built, including a five-star Hilton resort.

Dahab is located on the Gulf of Aqaba on the eastern side of the Sinai Peninsula and is about 65 miles south of Taba, near the border at the southern tip of Israel.

In Israel, the country’s rescue service said it had raised the alert level. Israeli Channel 10 TV reported that Israel had closed the border crossing at Taba, preventing vehicles from entering Sinai. It said a stream of Israeli vehicles were leaving Sinai.

Many Israelis travel to the Sinai for beach holidays.

Israel’s ambassador in Cairo, Shalom Cohen, told Israel’s Channel 10 TV that there were three explosions, hitting a hotel, a police station and a marketplace.

``We don’t know of Israelis″ who were hurt, he said, though some Israelis were known to be in Dahab.

Cohen said the best thing Israeli tourists in Sinai could do now would be to ``go home.″

He said there have been repeated warnings from the Israeli government against visiting the Sinai Desert, where Israelis have been targeted in attacks in the past.

``Unfortunately, the warnings came true,″ he said.

The Israeli rescue service, Magen David Adom, offered help through the International Red Cross and the Egyptian Red Crescent but has not received a reply, the service said in a statement.

It said about 20 ambulances were standing by at the Taba crossing between Israel and Egypt if needed.

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