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Egypt: Bomber Was Student Turned Extremist

April 11, 2005

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ The man who detonated a bomb that killed an American and two French tourists at a Cairo market last week was a student who adopted extreme religious views after the death of his father, the government said Monday.

Hassan Rafaat Ahmed Bashandi appeared to be acting alone when his bomb exploded prematurely in an old Cairo market Thursday, the Interior Ministry said. He was born in 1987 and was studying engineering at Zagazig University, north of Cairo, it said.

``There is no information or indication that point to his having connections with others, but the investigation continues,″ the statement said.

Egypt has been anxious to limit the fallout from the blast for fear it will harm the tourism industry, its No. 1 source of foreign exchange. From the outset, government officials have said the attack was likely the work of one person or a small group.

The blast near the Khan al-Khalili market killed two French citizens and an American and wounded 18 other people.

``All indications show that the device exploded prematurely while the culprit was preparing the explosives,″ the Interior Ministry said, adding that Bashandi was carrying almost 7 pounds of TNT in a leather bag with a lot of nails.

The ministry said that after Bashandi’s father died in August, he began to express extreme religious positions, such as forbidding his family from watching television.

In his home, police found CDs containing data downloaded from the Internet on waging Islamic holy war and building bombs from materials that are freely available. At his aunt’s house, where Bashandi occasionally stayed, police found 43 fireworks from which the gunpowder had been removed.

Prosecutors said earlier Monday that police had arrested Bashandi’s mother and two brothers. Police have detained up to 30 people in connection with the blast.

Bashandi’s upstairs neighbors in Shoubra el-Khaima, a low- to middle-income district in Cairo, said they could not believe he was responsible.

``I liked everything about him. He is very polite. He goes straight from his university to home,″ said Sayeda Mohammed, speaking as if Bashandi were still alive.

Another neighbor, Mamdouh Raafat, said he had known Bashandis for about 20 years and that Hassan ``could never do that.″

The Bashandi family lives in a small, fourth-story apartment in a building in which the paint peels from the corridor walls. On Monday, four armed security officials stood guard outside the building, blocking access to reporters and nonresidents.

A detective involved in the investigation said the breakthrough in identifying the bomber came when his uncle contacted the authorities after seeing a newspaper photograph of the corpse, which he thought belonged to his nephew.

Investigators took DNA samples from the uncle and the nephew’s mother and found they matched that of the corpse, said the detective, who asked not to be identified.

During the 1990s, Islamic insurgents often attacked tourists to try to cripple the tourism industry and bring down the government.

The last terrorist attack in Cairo was in 1997, when gunmen attacked a bus of German tourists, killing 11. Two months later, Islamic insurgents killed 58 tourists at a pharaonic temple in the southern city of Luxor, the last major attack of the 1990s insurgency.

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