Originally Published 2005-07-27 12:58:28 Published on Jul 27, 2005
Eighty-eight innocent civilians, about 60 of them Egyptians, and the remaining believed to be foreign tourists, were killed in three well-synchronised explosions by unidentified terrorist elements at the Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt on July 23,2005.The city is a popular tourist resort on the Red Sea at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula.
From London to Sharm El-Sheikh
Eighty-eight innocent civilians, about 60 of them Egyptians, and the remaining believed to be foreign tourists, were killed in three well-synchronised explosions by unidentified terrorist elements at the Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt on July 23,2005.The city is a popular tourist resort on the Red Sea at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula.

Taba, another tourist resort on the Red Sea, on the Sinai near the border of Jordan, frequented by Israeli tourists, was the target of a similar terrorist strike on October 7,2004, in which 34 persons, many of them Israelis, were killed.

While the terrorist strike in Taba coincided with the third anniversary of the beginning the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, the Sharm el-Sheikh explosion coincided with Egypt's National Day, which commemorates the 1952 bloodless revolution that brought a group of army officers to power after deposing King Farouk.

While all the three explosions in Taba involved car bombs, possibly driven by suicide terrorists, of the three explosions at Sharm el-Sheikh, two involved car-bombs, possibly driven by suicide terrorists. The third was reportedly a parcel bomb activated by a timer.

The dead in the Sharm el-Sheikh blasts included British, Russian, Dutch, Kuwaitis, Saudis, Qataris and Egyptians. It was the deadliest terrorist strike in Egypt since 1997, when jihadi terrorists killed 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians at the Pharaonic Temple of Hatshepsut outside Luxor in southern Egypt.

At the time of the Taba blasts, circles close to the Binori madrasa in Karachi had said that they did not rule out the possibility of the involvement of some European Muslim members of the International Islamic Front (IIF), holding passports of one of the European countries, in organising the explosions.

While Israrelii officials had linked the Al Qaeda to the Taba blasts, Egypt's Interior Minister Habib al-Adli had denied any Al Qaeda link. He claimed that the attacks were instead motivated by a cycle of desperation and violence in the Palestinian areas. He said Al Qaeda's involvement in the attacks had been ruled out on the basis of confessions made by the suspects and evidence gathered by the Egyptian security services. The suspects arrested by the Egyptian authorities were accused of helping the terrorists in the procurement of the cars and the explosives used in the Taba attack.

"Investigations did not point out any link between the executing group and any organisation whether inside or outside belonging to Al Qaeda," Mr Adli said. According to him, a Palestinian man from Egypt and an Egyptian man from the Bedouin community had masterminded one of the explosions. He claimed that both of them died while executing the attack. He said the attacks reflected "the current cycle of violence in the Palestinian territories and feelings of frustration and hopelessness resulting from it". However, Israeli officials continued to assert that Al Qaeda had a hand in the Taba attacks.

A group calling itself the Islamic Tawhid Brigade had claimed responsibility for the Taba attacks in a statement, which read: "Four of your martyrdom-seeking brothers carried out this brave operation despite intensified security measures and killed dozens of parasites." The group praised Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, his No.2, who is an Egyptian, and said the attack was "dedicated" to the militant Palestinian leader Ahmed Yassin who was allegedly assassinated by the Israelis in March,2004. It also condemned Egypt as a "regime that committed treason against its own people and religion".

In a statement attributed to Ayman al-Zawahiri, which was disseminated a week before the Taba attack, he had said: "This is the century of the Islamic resistance … Let's learn a lesson from Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. We shouldn't wait for the American, English, French, Jewish, Hungarian, Polish and South Korean forces to invade Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen and Algeria and then start the resistance after the occupier has already invaded us. We should start now. The interests of America, Britain, Australia, France, Norway, Poland, South Korea and Japan are everywhere. All of them participated in the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. They also facilitated a raison d'être for Israel. We should not wait anymore than we already have or else we will be devoured, one country at a time, as they have occupied us in the last two centuries. The Islamic world has entered the period of occupation ... Oh, young men of Islam, here is our message to you, if we are killed or captured, you should carry on the fight."

In statements posted on the Internet, a group calling itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigade, al-Qaeda in Syria and Egypt, and another group calling itself the Mujahedi Masr of Egypt have claimed responsibility for the Sharm-el-Sheikh blasts. While the authenticity of these statements has not been established,
Makram Mohammed Ahmed, of the government-owned "Al-Ahram" daily of Cairo, who is an expert on terrorism, has expressed the view that the Sharam el-Sheikh attacks were masterminded by Al Qaeda. He said: "Following the assassination of the Egyptian envoy in Iraq, Ihab al-Sharif, and the al-Qaeda statement claiming the murder and accusing the Egyptian regime of being under the 'orders of the Crusaders', it is clear that Egypt is being targeted because of its regional and international policies. Al Qaeda considers Egypt an integral part of the US-led coalition." In the beginning of July, the followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq kidnapped Ihab al-Sharif, the newly-posted Egyptian Ambassador in Baghdad, branded him an apostate and killed him. 

In 1981, members of an organisation called the Islamic Jihad joined other terrorists in assassinating President Anwar el- Sadat of Egypt. After the attack, the Islamic Jihad split into two groups. One group, owing allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, fought against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan and in 1998 accepted bin Laden's objective of fighting the "far enemy" (the US) first and joined the International Islamic Front (IIF) for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People formed by bin Laden in February, 1998. The splinter group , which was opposed to joining the IIF, wanted to focus on the jihad against the "near enemy" (the Hosni Mubarak regime). It strongly advised against any confrontation with the sole super power before they were able to achieve their aim at home. The Islamic Jihad unit, which remained out of the IIF, slowly lost momentum following the arrest and trial of many of its members by the Egyptian authorities and ostensibly gave up resort to terrorism in 1999.

In a book titled "Understanding Terror Networks (2004)" ,Dr. Marc Sageman, a former operative of the US' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who had served in the CIA station in Islamabad from 1986 to 89, underlines, on the basis of a study of the background of 400 terrorists associated with the Al Qaeda, the continuing Egyptian influence on the thinking and operations of the Al Qaeda.

He traces the origin of the continuing Egyptian influence on the global jihadi terrorist movement, as personified by the Al Qaeda, to Egypt's humiliating defeat at the hands of Israel in 1967. According to him, the 1967 war, which discredited President Gamal Abdel Nasser's secular socialist policies, gave birth to the alternative view that "Islam is the solution." He mentions the leading terrorists/extremists of Egyptian origin who were to play a leading role in the global terrorist incidents of subsequent years including Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind cleric involved in the attempt to blow up the New York World Trade Centre in February,1993, Medhat Muhamad Abdel Rahman, leader of the 1997 attack that killed 58 foreign tourists in Egypt, and Mohammad Atta, who participated in the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US.

He adds: "It turns out 60 per cent are from Egypt.The ideology is Egyptian; the leadership is Egyptian. Most people think it's either Saudi or Afghan, but it's very much Egyptian." But, in contradiction of his view, there is hardly any Egyptian terrorist involvement against the US troops in Iraq. Saudi jihadis constitute nearly 60 per cent of the foreign terrorists in Iraq.

It is apparent that Egypt is now one of the major targets of Al Qaeda and the IIF. What is not so clear is whether the two terrorist strikes of October last year and July 23,2005, are the work of the remnants or a new generation of the Islamic Jihad in Egypt or of the followers of al-Zawahiri operating from external sanctuaries or of the new generation of suicide terrorists from the Muslim communities in the UK and other countries of West Europe.

The Egyptian authorities are well informed about the home-grown terrorists, whether still living in Egypt or outside. These elements would, therefore, find it difficult to operate undetected in Egypt. The Egyptian intelligence would, however, have difficulty in detecting terrorist volunteers from West Europe. If the terrorists came from West Europe, did they have any links with the perpetrators of the London blasts of July 7 and 21,2005? These questions are important, but no answers are available presently.

The writer Is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and,presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-mail: [email protected]

Source: South Asia Analysis Group, New Delhi, Paper no. 1473, July 25, 2005.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.