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Egyptian Police Arrest 30 in Cairo Bombing

April 11, 2005

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Egyptian police have detained 30 people in last week’s deadly bombing in a Cairo tourist bazaar, including the suspected bomber’s mother, three brothers and 16 other relatives, prosecutors said.

Police arrested the family members after identifying the body of the bomber, who died in the blast that killed two French tourists and an American and wounded 18 others Thursday in Cairo’s Khan al-Khalili bazaar. Among those arrested was an uncle who called authorities after seeing the suspected bomber’s body in a newspaper photograph.

The suspect, Hassan Rafaat Ahmed Bashandi, was a student who became a religious extremist after his father’s death, the Interior Ministry said.

Bashandi, who was 17 or 18 years old, apparently acted alone in the attack, the ministry said in a statement. He was carrying almost 7 pounds of TNT in a leather bag filled with nails when it exploded prematurely, the ministry said.

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

The sweep of arrests was similar to one carried out after October bombings in Sinai tourist resorts that killed 34 people _ the first major terror attack in Egypt since 1997. After that, police arrested thousands, including many relatives of the bombers, in the area of the Sinai town of el-Arish.

Some of those relatives have since been released, but at least two brothers and another relative of several suspects remain in custody. Human rights groups say a total of about 2,400 people remain in custody, though the government refuses to release any figures.

Among those detained in Thursday’s explosion were Bashandi’s mother, his three brothers and an uncle who provided a breakthrough in the case when he notified police that the body pictured in a newspaper resembled his nephew. Fifteen other relatives and three friends were also detained, prosecutors said.

Police broke into Bashandi’s apartment at 3 a.m. Sunday and detained his mother, said her landlady, Nawal Abdel-Halim.

``The family did not know where Hassan was, so they were all searching for him. His mother was not told anything about it″ until police detained her, Abdel-Halim said.

In the tiny apartment, police found CDs containing data downloaded from the Internet on waging Islamic holy war and building bombs. At Bashandi’s aunt’s house, police found 43 fireworks from which the gunpowder had been removed.

Bashandi, born in 1987, was studying engineering at Zagazig University, north of Cairo. The Interior Ministry said that after his father died in August, he began to exhibit extreme religious positions, such as forbidding his family to watch television.

Neighbors in Shoubra el-Khaima, a low-to-middle income district in Cairo, said they could not believe Bashandi was responsible for the bombing.

Mamdouh Raafat, a neighbor who knew the family for two decades, denied that Bashandi was an extremist.

``Why do they call every pious person a terrorist? They (the family) only pray and read the Quran,″ he said. ``They don’t flirt with girls and they don’t get involved in streets fights ... They don’t even smoke.″

Police say DNA samples from an uncle and Bashandi’s mother matched that of the corpse found in the bombing.

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

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AP writer Bushra Juhi in Cairo contributed to this story.

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