Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Tishrei 5765 - October 13, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Taba Bombing Could have Been Much Worse -- Al-Qaida Behind the Attacks
by M Plaut and Yated Ne'eman Staff

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 explosives.

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 floors.

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 employees.

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 for burial.

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 agree.

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 of Al-Qaida.

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 citizens.

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 attacks.

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.


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