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Details Emerge from Investigation of Sinai Attacks

By VOA News, Ha'aretz &

Rescue efforts are winding down at the site of three terrorist bombings in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. The bombs, which exploded outside a hotel and two camping resorts Thursday, killed at least 34, including 13 Israelis, and wounded more than 120. Egyptian and Israeli officials are reconstructing how the attacks were carried out.

Search and rescue teams working in the wreckage of the Taba Hilton Hotel said they did not expect to find any more bodies. Investigators were also busy lifting fingerprints, swabbing dust, and collecting tissue samples from the sites of the three car bombings. Egyptian authorities have also detained about 15 Bedouin tribesmen, believed to have helped the terrorists smuggle in explosives.

Egyptian military expert and former director of the Strategic Center of the Armed Forces Hossam Soweillem says Bedouins in Sinai have come under suspicion because of their experience smuggling drugs and weapons past checkpoints in Sinai. Soweillem also agrees with the conclusions of Egyptian officials who say a group of eight to 10 terrorists possibly slipped into the country on speedboats from Jordan or Saudi Arabia. He said the attack would have had to come from the East, which he said is less heavily patrolled by Egyptian troops, in accordance with terms set out in the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David peace treaty.

"The Western side is totally controlled by Egyptian troops," said Soweillem. "But according to the Camp David Treaty, the Eastern passes of Sinai are not controlled by the Egyptian troops but by some policemen, especially that area of Taba and Dahab and the Aqaba Coast. That is why it is impossible that these people who committed this crime [were] coming from the West, I mean coming from the Nile side, but they are coming from the East, from Israel, from Jordan."

Egyptian officials have said the terrorists may have been an Egyptian sleeper cell with links to al-Qaida's second-in-command, Egyptian Ayman Al-Zawahari. According to Israeli intelligence officials, two car bombs in front of the hotel and a suicide bomber by the pool started a fire, collapsed several floors, and caused a wall to fall. Israeli military intelligence said it also suspects al-Qaida of carrying out the attacks.

On Islam Online's chatboard, one poster calls those responsible "our freedom fighters in Palestine." Another writer suggests that al-Qaida is a front for Israel's secret service, the Mossad, and that the attacks will allow Israel to establish a presence in Sinai. Yet another poster responds: "The fact that you question who performed these murderous acts is silly. Sick murderers that have no value for human life carried them out. The same people who cut off heads, and make videos are the ones who must be killed."

The London Sunday Times reported Sunday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has instructed Israel's Mossad intelligence agency to place the hunt for Al-Qaeda terrorists atop its list of priorities. Yediot Achronot military commentator Alex Fishman wrote in Sunday's newspaper, "Under Israel's nose, an Al-Qaeda terror network sprouted in Sinai, and it has issued a warning card to Israel; 'We are on your tail. If we were able to blow up the Taba Hilton, we can also cross this non-border, just like the prostitutes, the drug dealers and the arms-smugglers... We're already in your back yard, in Sinai."

General Security Service chief Avi Dichter, who issued the original warnings of possible attacks in Sinai three weeks ago, criticized the government for not acting firmly enough on the information. He said that Israel's peace treaty with Egypt had prevented it from closing the border, and noted that the travel warnings that were issues were an inadequate response to "a highly specific terrorist alert."

Palestinian and Egyptian officials told The Associated Press that Egyptian security and intelligence officers have been discussing the attacks with officials from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The Egyptians were seeking information about members of the groups upset about Egypt's plan to help secure the Gaza Strip in the event of an Israeli withdrawal. Egypt maintains it needs to ensure stability along its border in the event of a security vacuum left behind by Israel's departure.

Israeli sources said that had received four pieces of intelligence information regarding planned attacks in Sinai. Three of these related to planned attacks by Palestinians, while the fourth indicated that a global Islamic group was planning an attack.

"Whoever is trying to connect the Palestinians to this is simplifying his life," Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told Israel's Channel 1 Television. "Our reports show that the type of attack, the fact that it was done in multiple locations, with a large amount of explosives... point more to the direction of Al-Qaida. The attempt to move it to the Palestinian side is wrong. This was meant to be a mega-attack that was supposed to collapse the whole hotel and kill hundreds of people," Shalom said. "This sort of thing is usually carried out by a certain organization called Al-Qaida."

Israeli security bodies estimate that the explosives used in the car bomb or bombs in Taba totaled 300 kilograms, and that the terrorists' intention was to destroy the entire 410-room hotel. Some 300 Egyptian employees were in the hotel at the time, as well as 200 Russian tourists, and 400 other tourists - most of whom were Israeli. The British Sunday Telegraph reported Sunday that a female terrorist also took part in the attack, and that her decapitated body was found near the pool at the back of the hotel - together with several other dead bodies.

Sinai Massacre: An Iranian-Hizbullah-al Qaeda Co-production

By DEBKAfile (Exclusive Report & Commentary)

Friday, October 8, on the morning after a terrorist-bombing rampage at three idyllic Sinai desert resorts... the first clues have been found to the identities of the hands behind the massacre and their targets.

DEBKAfile's intelligence and counter-terror sources report that the explosives used to tear away the entire frontage of the Taba Hilton and hit the Nueiba oasis campsite further south on the Red Sea coast were of Iranian manufacture; the same make as the bombs used in the 1996 Khobar Towers blast and he 2003 Istanbul attacks.

Egyptian intelligence investigators are working on the same premise as their Israeli counterparts that a Hizbullah cell based in Sinai rigged the four bomb cars and by mid-September had them ready for Thursday's multiple strike. Two were reserved for the 10-story Taba Hilton.

Intelligence of suggestive Hizbullah movements prompted the counter-terror center at the Israeli prime minister's office to warn Israeli travelers on the eve of the Jewish New Year to miss out on their favorite holiday sites in Sinai. Nonetheless, 15,000 Israelis were trapped there Thursday night.

(The Hizbullah's Sinai cell is part of the Palestinian international weapons smuggling network that has grown out of the Sinai-Gaza tunnel system and which now branches out to East Africa, Arabia, the Persian Gulf, Syria, Turkey and Chechnya.)

Two of the four bomb cars have been identified as "Ramses," an Egyptian version of the Fiat. They were kept hidden in caves and wadis around the Sinai desert in waiting for the suicide bombers. Another Egyptian intelligence premise is that between four and six bombers activated the death cars, arriving one or two days earlier by one of two routes - from Sudan or from Saudi Arabia via Sudan. They would have reached the Egyptian Red Sea port of Gardaka and taken a regular ferry to Sharm el-Sheikh. Disembarking passengers are only lightly searched as Egypt has no wish to hurt its tourist trade. The other possibility is that the bombers crossed the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia and arrived at the Sharm el-Sheikh marina aboard a Saudi yacht, knowing the Egyptians would never search it. A few hours later, they would have been picked up and driven to the hidden bomb cars by Hizbullah operatives.

At least 60 Israeli hotel guests remain missing. Six thousand Israelis are still in Sinai of the 15,000 at the time of the attacks. No contact has been established with 250...The removal of Israeli bodies from the attack-sites has been slow, mostly because of identification problems posed by the state of the bodies and absence of passports and guest lists in the ruined hotel. The many Russian passport-holders, dead or missing, who stayed at the hotel pose a special identification problem. They may be immigrants to Israel who kept their Russian documents, tourists from Russia or even Islamic extremists from North Caucasian republics.

Shortly after the mega-terror assaults in Sinai, Egyptian security forces swung into action to tighten security and block up the many exits from the country. Egypt has approached Israel with a request to renegotiate provisions of their 12-year old peace accords that bar Egyptian military forces from Sinai. The Cairo government intends deploying military units to drive out al Qaeda, Hizbullah and other terrorist and lawless elements that have made strategic peninsula their stamping ground.

Personal Testimony from Taba


Miri Visushnik, 13, who was lightly hurt in the Taba Hilton attack, told Arutz-7's Moshe Priel: "We arrived at the Hilton on Wednesday [the day before the attack], and it was fun. The hotel was full of guests... [On Thursday night,] I went down with my stepfather to the dining room, and my mother was getting ready in the room. A minute later, a giant explosion rocked the whole place, and all the windows broke. My father took me to the beach, and then went up to get my mother and all our stuff."

David, the stepfather, then continued, "It's hard for me to describe the terrible sights I saw on my way upstairs to get my wife: crushed bodies, smoke, darkness... Those minutes seemed like an eternity, but I won't go into the details. I found my wife, took our stuff, and we quickly made it to our car, which was hit by shrapnel, and we loaded up five other people and drove to the border and made it into Israel. From there we went to Soroka [the Be'er Sheva hospital], where we were termed lightly wounded. Thank God we were in the dining room."

The story for 18-year-old twin sisters Yael and Sharon Niv, of the Galilee town of Rakefet, near Sakhnin and Carmiel, ended much more tragically. Yediot Achronot reported that they were in their room on the 9th floor of the hotel, with their parents and two younger brothers in the adjacent room, when the explosion occurred. They quickly ran to the next room, opened the door - and saw nothing but an abyss and darkness, with unidentified cries coming from below.

The girls, who celebrated their 18th birthday just two days before, do not even remember how they left the hotel, crossed the border by foot, and reached the center for families of missing victims that the Eilat Municipality opened. They found their father listed as wounded in Yoseftal Hospital - but found no word of their mother, Tzila, nor of their brothers Gilad, 11, and Lior, 3. Their father is now in Tel HaShomer Hospital, and the girls are at their grandparents in nearby Ramat Gan. This morning, their hopes for a miracle came crashing down when word came that the dead bodies of their mother and brothers had been found and identified.

Meshi-Zahav, who had been in Taba for two days, said that he saw Egyptians looting the hotel in Taba, and even the dead bodies, even before evacuation of the wounded had been completed - and certainly while people were trapped, dead or alive, under the rubble. Many other Israelis on the scene confirmed these reports. They said that as they went through the rooms looking for survivors, they saw that drawers and closets had already been opened and stripped of their valuables, with the cheaper items left lying on the floor. Bodies emptied of their wallets and jewelry made the identification process even more difficult than it already was. A Channel Two television crew told of a female body that was brought for identification with a watch on her hand - and that by the end of the identification, the watch was no longer there.

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