According to the analysis of Israeli officials, if the
bombing of the Taba Hilton had gone ahead as planned, it
could have caused hundreds of deaths, rather than the 32
murders that were the result. 124 people were wounded. The
preliminary investigation has led most -- including both
Israeli and Egyptian security services -- to suspect that the
terrorists involved were associated with Al-Qaida, the
international Moslem terrorist movement run by Osama bin
Laden. Sinai Beduin are believed to have assisted the
terrorists in evading roadblocks and also provided them with
The Taba Hilton, a hotel built by Israel and returned to
Egypt after arbitration under the peace agreements over 20
years ago, was hit on Thursday night, motzei Simchas Torah in
Israel, by a car carrying at least 200 kilos (440 pounds) of
explosives expertly rigged and well executed. "Had the
bombers detonated the bombs near the foundations of the hotel
rather than in the middle of the lobby it would have been
far, far worse," OC Home Front Command, Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh
said. Had the car or truck penetrated deeper before exploding
it might have caused the collapse of a large section of the
hotel. About 20 rooms on the south side of the 10-story hotel
did collapse. The ten floors compacted into just four
The hotel was near full occupancy of 900 guests at the time
of the attack, with several hundred more people in its
gambling casino. Israeli officials said that about 400 of the
guests were Israeli, including Jews and Arabs, and about 300
Israelis were in the casino. The hotel had about 500
Altogether at the Taba Hilton and in another bomb attack at
nearby Ras a Satan (Satan's Head), 12 Israelis were murdered,
six Egyptian workers, and 12 tourists from Russia and eastern
Europe, and two from Italy. The total number of those
murdered was 32. There was some confusion about the number
since it was hard to identify the remains of the suicide
bomber or bombers, and some tallies may have counted those
remains as additional victims.
All the bodies of the Israeli victims were returned to Israel
Israeli security sources said that Egyptian intelligence
service has no real leads in their search for those
responsible for Thursday's bombings. A Bedouin tribesman was
found who said he sold explosives that might have been used
in the Sinai attacks, Egyptian security officials said. He
said that he was told the explosives were for use by
Palestinians inside of Israel or in Gaza, but he did not know
what became of the weapons he sold.
Hamas has denied any role in the attacks.
Israel believes that it was the work of Al-Qaida, the
worldwide Islamic terror organization run by Osama bin Laden,
though Egyptian authorities at first expressed skepticism
about that possibility. Later they seemed to be inclined to
According to Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, "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."
A previously unknown pro-Al-Qaida Islamist group called
Islamic Tawhid Brigades first claimed responsibility for the
Sinai blasts. The claim, along with one from another unknown
group calling itself the World Islamist Group, could not be
verified. Later, claiming to be an Al-Qaida affiliate, the
Abdullah Azzam Brigades published statements in the London-
based Al-Hayat on Monday claiming responsibility for
the "welcomed operation."
Egyptian investigators said they suspect that a group of
eight to 10 terrorists targeting Israelis carried out the
Thursday night attacks, possibly slipping in from Saudi
Arabia or Jordan on speed boats. The Egyptian investigators
also said that a local sleeper Al-Qaida cell may have been
awakened to carry out the attacks, Egypt's first terrorist
strike in seven years. It is believed that the Egyptian
terrorists report to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second in command
A terrorist "sleeper cell" is a group that is organized for
terror but spends many years living ordinary lives. Al-Qaida
is believed to have many such cells in countries around the
world that can be called upon to commit terrorist acts. They
are extremely difficult to stop since the members of the cell
have spent many years as unsuspicious, law-abiding
Egyptian authorities arrested dozens of Bedouins on Friday
and Saturday, on suspicion of involvement in the attacks in
Sinai. Egyptian security forces also took fingerprints and
DNA samples from the remnants of the cars that blew up in the
The initial results suggest that the two car bombs that
exploded in the resort of Ras a Satan were originally
intended to blow up at different Sinai hotels.
Israeli sources say 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. Israel had published a warning against
traveling to Sinai a month earlier, before the holiday
season, that was still in force when the attack took place.
Israel had issued a particularly serious travel warning and
even urged those citizens already there to return to Israel.
Still, some 15,000 Israelis on vacation were there at the
time of the attack. The vast majority of them straggled over
to Eilat in the next 24 hours.
Although the Jews at the Taba Hilton hotel were probably the
main target, the luxury hotel is a very popular vacation spot
for Israeli Arabs. All signs and menus are in Arabic and
Israeli Arabs can speak in their mother-tongue with
employees. Even the food -- much of it Middle Eastern fare --
was more familiar to them than the continental dishes served
at most hotels in Israel. Israeli Arabs were about one third
of the Israelis killed.
Another reason for the popularity of the Sinai hotels among
Israeli Arabs is the price. According to an Israeli Arab
travel agent, "You get a luxury hotel with a beautiful view,
wonderful atmosphere, and great weather and it costs a
quarter of the hotels in Eilat. And at the Taba Hilton there
is a casino." He said that he sent over 500 vacationers there
throughout this year.
In the wake of the terror attacks, the Egyptian government
has decided to ask Israel to add an appendix to the peace
treaty between the two countries, so that Egypt will be
allowed to deploy trained military forces into eastern Sinai.
The peace treaty currently stipulates that Egypt may deploy
only armed police forces in the region, known as Area C.
Press reports said Israel is prepared to allow the deployment
of Egyptian military forces there, but is against amending
the peace treaty, preferring instead to arrange the matter
with "an exchange of letters" between the governments.