Sharm el-Sheikh Deaths rise to 88
Al-Qaeda Claims Responsibility
The death toll at Sharm el-Sheikh had risen to 88 by late Saturday, with 200 wounded. Most of the dead were Egyptians.
The attacks took place on a national holiday to commemorate the 1952 nationalist revolution. The young officers’ Revolutionary Command Council banned the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood in 1954 after it attempted to assassinate Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser. The regime of Hosni Mubarak, an air force general trained in Moscow, stands in a direct line from that of Abdel Nasser, and his government maintains restrictions on political Islam. Abdel Nasser’s first successor, Anwar El Sadat, made a peace treaty with Israel in the late 1970s and was assassinated by the Gamaa Islamiyyah and al-Jihad al-Islami in a joint operation in 1981. The Mubarak regime has jailed tens of thousands of radical Muslims and killed some 1500 in running street battles in the 1990s. Until the collapse of the Oslo peace process in Israel and Palestine and the Iraq War, Egypt had succeeded in quelling the radical Muslim movements (admittedly the methods used were not often nice).
According to al-Jazeera.net, “Al-Qaeda in Greater Syria and the Land of Kananah [Egypt]– The Martyr Abdullah Azzam Brigades” claimed responsibility on the internet. The group said it had attacked “the Crusaders and Zionists,” i.e. Western Christians and Israelis vacationing at the resort. The statement said that the attack came “in response to the crimes of the evil world Powers, which permit the shedding of Muslim blood in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Chechnya.” They also claimed to have taken revenge on behalf of “the martyrs of Sinai”– a reference to the militants killed in gunfights with Egyptian police in the aftermath of the Taba bombings in October. The bombings come two days before the resumption of the trial of two suspects in the Taba bombings (scroll down). The authenticity of the communique could not be verified. A competing claim was made by the Mujahidin of Egypt, naming the five perpetrators of the bombings. The group was previously unknown and its claim could not be verified either.
AP ties the bombing at least vaguely into a videotape of the interrogation of kidnapped Egyptian diplomat Ihab Sherif:
“Meanwhile, the group al-Qaida in Iraq released an Internet video that appeared to highlight one reason why militants might have targeted Sharm: the presence of Israeli tourists.
The video did not mention the Sharm bombings nor claim responsibility, but it showed the interrogation of Egypt’s top envoy to Iraq, Ihab al-Sherif, whom the group kidnapped and said it killed earlier this month. In the video, the diplomat was asked about Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which allows Israelis to travel without visas to a zone known as “Part C,” along the Sinai’s eastern coast.
“From which point does Part C start?” a questioner asked al-Sherif. “From Taba to Sharm el-Sheik,” he replied.
“If you seek an evidence on how the Jews are desecrating the land of Muslims, contemplate the words of the Egyptian ambassador,” said a statement, posted with the video on an Islamic Web forum.” ‘
Al-Sharq al-Awsat says that the Egyptian experts it is talking to say the most likely culprit in the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings is Muhammad Ahmad Fulayfil. He is wanted for the Taba bombings of last October, in which is brother died as a suicide bomber. Fulayfil [Fulaifel], an Egyptian of Bedouin background, is being tried in absentia (scroll down). Reuters had reported Fulayfil killed in a gunfight with police in western Sinai last winter. But if he is being tried in absentia, I presume the Egyptian authorities retracted the report of his death. As I said yesterday, I don’t find it plausible that a big, well-planned attack with powerful explosives was a mere repeat of Taba, done also by car smugglers, metal workers and small town bureaucrats. Al-Sharq al-Awsat is alleging that the explosives used at Sharm el-Sheikh are of the same sort as at Taba but are of local manufacture. If so, the Bedouin have learned someting about bomb making in the meantime.
This para. from al-Sharq al-Awsat is right, though: “According to the experts, it appears clear that al-Qaedah–or its satellite affiliates–has established a network in the Sinai Peninsula, the fingers of which reach into Taba and Sharm el-Sheikh. It is certain that there is an organization active in the Sinai.” In a sense, Sinai is natural al-Qaeda territory. It is vast, lightly populated, not particularly closely governed, and the local population, of Bedoin background, already has resentments about marginalization in the Egyptian polity. That is, it resembles some of the provinces of Afghanistan where al-Qaeda operated so successfully.
Our world is turning into a horror film. I never particularly cared for horror movies, especially after I had lived in Beirut off and on during the opening years of the Civil War. Once you’ve seen real blood, the Hollywood ketchup just isn’t that much of a hoot.
The horror is captured in this para. from al-Sharq al-Awsat: “Eyewitnesses said that a man was sitting in the cafeteria watching three of his sons play soccer on the plaza in front of the bazaar. Then the bomb exploded and they were blown to bits. The father, hysterical, ran around gathering up their body parts, shrieking and weeping.”