Egyptians had a warning, but guarded wrong places in Sharm el-Sheik
SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt – The tip was vague. Terrorists were going to strike somewhere in this prosperous Red Sea resort, and soon, but the target was a mystery. So police made their best guess, boosting security around the lavish casinos frequented by Israelis and other tourists.But police guessed wrong.Instead, the attackers went for hotels, slamming one truck bomb into the lobby of the Ghazala Gardens while another, headed for a second hotel, got caught in traffic and exploded in a market full of Egyptians. A third bomb went off in a parking lot.Two security officials revealed Tuesday that authorities had information of an imminent assault days ahead of the pre-dawn Saturday bombings that killed as many as 88 people, Egypt’s deadliest terror attack.Investigators also had their first break in the probe, identifying an Egyptian as a possible suicide bomber. Security officials said DNA tests identified a body at the Ghazala Gardens hotel explosion as Moussa Badran, an Egyptian from north Sinai police said was known for Islamic militant links.Security forces took in 70 people for questioning Tuesday, many in north Sinai. The detentions brought to 140 the number of people questioned since the blasts.The security officials would not say where the tip about Sharm el-Sheik came from, only that headquarters in Cairo alerted forces in Sharm to be on alert and to step up security measures around key locations.But it appeared they chose the wrong possible target to watch, one security official said. Both officials are close to the investigation, but spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not authorized for release.Security was stepped up around casinos on the theory they would be targeted because Israelis often come to Sharm to gamble, which is banned in their country.The government has sacked the heads of security in North and South Sinai provinces, an apparent sign of the failures that may have allowed the assault on one of Egypt’s most closely guarded towns.Police had been studying two bodies found at the Ghazala hotel as possible bombers because the remains were dismembered. DNA tests identified one of the bodies as that of Moussa Badran, an Egyptian resident of Sinai who police said has links to Islamic militants.Initially, officials said the body was that of Badran’s brother Youssef. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the release of the details had not been authorized, did not give a reason for the change in identification.The second body from the Ghazala is still being tested. A third body in Sharm’s Old Market, the site of the other truck explosion, is also being examined as a possible bomber.Moussa Badran – a resident of Sheik Zawaid, a town near el-Arish in northern Sinai – fled the family house soon after a terror attack last October at two other Red Sea resorts, his stepmother told The Associated Press.Many relatives – including women – were arrested after Badran’s disappearance and tortured, and another brother remains in custody, said the stepmother, Mariam Hamad Salem al-Sawarka.Hours after the Sharm blast, police took DNA samples from Badran’s father and siblings and from other families with relatives who have gone into hiding since the Taba attacks, al-Sawarka said. She said Youssef Badran moved to another town near Sheik Zawaid several years ago and she had not seen him since.Investigators have been exploring possible links between Saturday’s attacks and those in October against hotels in the resorts of Taba and Ras Shitan, near the Israeli border. Those earlier attacks killed 34 people, including many Israelis.Israel warned Israelis a year ago not to visit Egypt, and especially Sinai, because of the possibility terrorists would attack tourist sites. No Israelis are known to have died in the Sharm bombings, although Israeli media have said there were a number of Israelis there at the time.Security forces detained thousands of people after the October attacks – mainly from the north Sinai area. Among those detained and questioned after Saturday’s attacks were people from the villages of Husseinat and Muqataa near the Gaza border.Security officials in el-Arish said that, based on information from interrogations, they were looking for two other people from the area, Moussa Ayad Suleiman Awda and Ahmed Ibrahim Hamad Ibrahim, in connection with the Sharm attacks.Investigators are concentrating on the theory that the bombings were carried out by Egyptian militants, but were not excluding the possibility they received international help, the security officials in Cairo said.They noted that there has been an increasing number of hard-line Islamists in Sinai who may have formed cells. In previous years, the sparsely populated peninsula saw little militant activity, in contrast to the Nile Valley where the majority of Egyptians live and where an Islamic insurgency took hold in the 1990s.Investigators were looking closely at funding for Islamists in Sinai, possibly from abroad. Large sums have come into the area in recent years, and no one is sure of the source, one of the officials in Cairo said.Authorities are also trying to learn the origin of the more than 1,100 pounds of explosives used in the Sharm attacks. Police said they were exploring the possibility they may have been brought in from Jordan, Saudi Arabia or Israel.Another possibility was that the bombs were made of old explosives or from explosives used in quarries and hoarded by Sinai’s Bedouin inhabitants.Police have set up checkpoints on isolated desert roads north of Sharm, entrances to the region that previously had been only loosely guarded. The attackers may have used such roads to reach the resorts.—Sarah El Deeb reported on this story from Sharm el-Sheik, Salah Nasrawi reported from Cairo.