Police search for five Pakistanis as Sharm el-Sheik attack probe widens
SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt – Security forces hunted through rugged desert mountains Monday for militants suspected in the bombings in this Red Sea resort, and investigators said attackers may have been killed in all three explosions – either accidentally or as suicide bombers.Police at checkpoints around Sharm el-Sheik, meanwhile, were circulating photographs of the five Pakistanis believed to have come to the area from Cairo earlier this month, at least two investigators said.DNA tests were being run on two bodies that could be those of bombers, one believed to be Egyptian, the other a foreigner, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the release of details in the probe had not been authorized.Earlier reports said three bombers may have escaped the blasts, which struck Sharm el-Sheik in quick succession before dawn Saturday. But investigators said Monday that attackers may have been killed in all three blasts, either by accident or as suicide bombers.A body believed to be that of a foreign bomber was found at the Ghazala Gardens hotel, where an explosives-laden truck barreled into the driveway, running over a bicyclist and two security guards before crashing into the lobby and exploding at 1:25 a.m.The other body suspected to be a bomber was found several miles away in the Old Market, an area where Egyptian workers live. A truck bomb had been heading to the Iberotel Palace hotel when it got stuck in traffic near a police checkpoint. An unknown number of bombers in the truck abandoned the vehicle and detonated it – at 1:15 a.m. – but at least one apparently was caught by the explosion.The third blast, a bomb hidden in a knapsack, went off about four minutes after the Ghazala explosion in a parking lot 150 yards from the hotel, ripping through people running to the Ghazala. Police said they were investigating whether the bomber died.The identities of the attackers remained unknown Monday. The blasts killed as many as 88 people, including an American woman and at least 16 other foreigners.The government sacked the heads of security in North and South Sinai provinces – a sign of the failures that may have allowed the assault on one of Egypt’s most closely guarded towns. Sharm is an engine of the country’s vital tourism industry, a winter home of the president and the venue for many Israeli-Palestinian summits.Police launched their desert sweep in two areas, Rouessat and Khorum, some 25 miles from Sharm, after getting a tip that suspects may have gone there, security officials said. They also spoke on condition of anonymity because of the release of details had not been authorized.The missing Pakistanis were identified as Mohammed Anwar, 30; Rashid Ali, 26; Mohammed Aref, 26; Musaddeq Hussein, 18; and Mohammed Akhtar, 30. The pictures, which gave their passport numbers, were on posters put up in Cairo.Officials did not say the men were known to be connected to the bombings. They were among nine Pakistanis who checked into a hotel in the Cairo suburb of Maadi on July 7, then disappeared two days later, leaving their bags behind, security officials said.Photocopies of their passports taken by the hotel indicated the documents were fakes. Four of the men were later found – apparently in Cairo – but the others are believed to have gone to Sharm, the officials said.One security official cautioned that the five Pakistanis were being sought as part as a general sweep against illegal activity in Sharm, not necessarily because of a connection to the blasts. Illegal Pakistani migrants have been known to use Egypt as a route to Europe.But involvement of Pakistanis in Saturday’s attack would imply an international, possibly al-Qaida hand behind the bombings.British authorities have been seeking several Pakistanis in connection to this month’s deadly bombings in London, and Washington has raised the possibility that both the London and Sharm attacks were planned by Osama bin Laden’s terror network.Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Monday that al-Qaida’s command and communication system in his country has been eliminated and that the network could not have orchestrated attacks from Pakistan.”Is it possible in this situation that an al-Qaida man sitting here, no matter who he is, may control things in London, Sharm el-Sheik, Istanbul or Africa? This is absolutely wrong,” he said.Hospital officials in Sharm said at least 88 people were killed and about 119 wounded, but the Health Ministry put the death toll at 64. Hospitals said the ministry count excludes some sets of body parts.South Sinai Governor Mustafa Afifi said 17 of the dead were non-Egyptians. Those killed included American Kristina Miller and her British boyfriend, Keri Davies, who were celebrating her 27th birthday when the bombs went off.Investigators in Sharm were also pursuing a possible connection to bombings in October in two resorts further north, Taba and Ras Shitan, that killed 34 people, including many Israelis. DNA from the suspected bombers’ remains were being compared to samples from the parents of five suspects still at large from the Taba blasts.The Sharm bombings had hallmarks of other al-Qaida-style operations – near-simultanous bombings using a mix of techniques, including vehicle-borne and other bombs.The attackers are believed to have entered Sharm from the north through little-guarded desert roads in pickup trucks carrying explosives, security officials said.Two groups claimed responsibility for the attacks. One of the groups warned in an Internet statement Monday of a “total war” unless “Jews and Christians leave our country within 60 days.” The statement was signed by the Holy Warriors of Egypt.A conflicting claim was issued Saturday by an al-Qaida-linked group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which also claimed responsibility for last October’s bombings. None of the statements’ authenticity could be confirmed.