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Egypt bombings raise question of foreign connection

Written by: Staff
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CAIRO, Apr 25 (Reuters) A third set of bombings targeting tourists on Egypt's Sinai peninsula adds to the mystery about the secretive group thought to be behind them, driving some analysts to suspect a foreign connection.

Hours after yesterday's bombings in the budget resort of Dahab, Western analysts mentioned al Qaeda as a possible culprit.

But many security experts believe a shadowy Sinai-based group is more likely to be responsible. It may share some of al Qaeda's objectives but no one has produced evidence to prove it.

The triple bombing yesterday, which killed 18 people and wounded 83, closely resembled earlier attacks in Taba and Sharm el-Sheikh which the government attributed to a group of local militant Islamists founded by a man of Palestinian origin.

Whoever planted the bombs was closely familiar with the area and timed them to coincide with a national holiday, which some analysts saw as suggesting an Egyptian ideological context.

''It could be a new group that has sprung up in Sinai because it knows the area and its targets well, it has the ability to gather information here and they are not known to the security authorities,'' Islamic movement analyst Nabil Abdel-Fattah said.

But what puzzles especially Western analysts is the sophistication of the bombing campaign and whether locals could mount such a deadly series of attacks without some outside help.

''These are quite large-scale, coordinated (attacks). They presuppose serious organisation, planning and so forth. These are not amateur,'' said Hugh Roberts, Cairo-based North Africa director at the International Crisis Group.

''This raises the question: can it purely be attributed to local Sinai elements, when there is no previous tradition of Islamic terrorist activity in the Sinai?...The natural thing to assume is the authorities are withholding something.'' If the official line is true, the new group has arisen of its own accord, independent of Egypt's older and now inactive Jihad and Gama'a Islamiya groups, which makes it even more of a mystery, Roberts said.

An alternative explanation would be that the chain of bombings is inspired by Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda -- a possibility also acknowledged by Abdel-Fattah -- and that those reponsible have at least some international connections.

The existence of a more extensive network could also help account for the inability of the Egyptian authorities to halt the bombings, despite a series of arrests and the death of several militants in gun battles with police.

MORE REUTERS SHB VP2235

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