JERUSALEM – The terrorists who carried out last month’s triple bomb blasts in the Sinai resort town of Dahab trained for the operation in the Gaza Strip with local Palestinians, Egyptian authorities announced today.
The bombings were blamed on terror cells in the Sinai desert working on behalf of al-Qaida. The Egyptian allegations – which also accuse Palestinians of funneling money to the attackers – are the latest sign al-Qaida has infiltrated the Gaza Strip and is seeking to carry out large-scale operations against regional interests.
Twenty-four people were killed and more than 85 were injured last month in the bomb attacks, which ripped through a Dahab restaurant, cafe and shopping center.
An Egyptian Interior Ministry statement today said two Gaza-based Palestinians facilitated the attacks. It named one, Abu Suleiman, as providing the Egyptian cell that carried out the attacks with money. Another Palestinian, identified by the statement as Maged al-Deri, trained members of the group on the use of explosives and firearms. The training took place in the Gaza Strip, stated the ministry. The statement did not identify the Palestinians further or connect them with any Palestinian terror organization.
This was not the first time Egypt linked the bombings to the Gaza Strip. As WND first reported, Egyptian officials said last week they suspected a plotter of the Dahab blasts recently infiltrated the Gaza Strip and has been extended refuge there by local terror groups, including members of Hamas.
The officials, speaking to WND on condition of anonymity, said authorities issued a request for Hamas to arrest and turn over the alleged attack plotter, who they said escaped from the Al-Arish region of the Sinai desert near Dahab, a popular Red Sea vacation and diving center not far from Egypt’s border with Israel.
Egyptian special forces in recent weeks have been raiding Bedouin villages in the Sinai, making multiple arrests and leading interrogations of suspected militants.
Egyptian intelligence officials said they suspect the Dahab blasts were carried out by local cells of Bedouins situated in the Sinai and affiliated with al-Qaida. A suicide bomber responsible for one of the blasts was identified as a Sinai-based Bedouin.
Egyptian officials told WND one attack plotter entered the Gaza Strip via the Rafah Crossing, the main Egypt-Gaza checkpoint, and has been provided shelter by Hamas members and leaders of the Popular Resistance Committees, a Gaza-based terror organization.
They said the wanted militant is a relative of Khaled Musaed, a Sinai dentist Egyptian security officers say was the Sinai coordinator for al-Qaida-linked groups in the area. Musaed was killed several weeks ago in an Egyptian raid.
The Egyptian officials have requested the Hamas-led Palestinian government arrest and turn over the wanted militant.
Abu Abir, spokesperson for the Popular Resistance Committees, said he was aware of the Egyptian request but denied his group was harboring anyone associated with the Dahab bombings.
“This is propaganda to discredit us and Hamas,” Abu Abir told WND.
The Egyptian accusations are the latest in a string of reports many analysts here say shows a deterioration in the relationship between Egypt and Hamas.
In its role as a Middle East powerbroker, Egypt often hosts Hamas delegations for regional talks. But there are rampant reports of tensions between the two.
Last month, Egypt’s foreign minister reportedly refused to meet Hamas foreign minister Mahmoud al-Zahar while he was visiting the country.
Egyptian officials told WND last week Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak berated Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, accusing Hamas of smuggling weapons from the Sinai desert in the Gaza Strip.
Egypt occasionally has accused Hamas of involvement in attacks on its soil. Egyptian security reports hinted at possible Hamas involvement in the suicide bombings of tourist centers in Taba in October 2004, killing 34 people, including 11 Israelis.
Last month, two suicide bombs exploded near a multinational peacekeeping force in the Sinai adjacent to Gaza – attacks also blamed on Sinai cells affiliated with al-Qaida. The two attacks took place at the same time members of the Popular Resistance Committees, a Palestinian terror organization closely affiliated with Hamas, was set to carry out a large-scale car bombing at the Karni Crossing, the main cargo passageway between the Gaza Strip and Israel. The attack was foiled at the last minute.
Palestinian security officials said the Karni attack was coordinated with anti-Egyptian militants responsible for the Sinai bombings.
Israel’s Shin Bet Security Services announced the Karni attack was directed by Hamas senior member Ahmed Randor. It said Hamas and the Committees work together regularly. The overall Committees leader, Jamal Abu Samhadana, recently was appointed by Hamas to the post of interior minister and general supervisor of the Palestinian police.
Also, Egypt is said to be very closely monitoring the Hamas relationship with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to create an Islamic theocracy in place of the current Mubarak regime, considered a regional ally to the U.S.
Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood, which won an unprecedented 20 percent of the Parliament in the latest Egyptian elections.
Palestinian security sources close to Hamas told WND Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader Mahdi Akif has been serving as a replacement Hamas spiritual leader since Israel assassinated former spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin in March 2004.
Multiple Brotherhood leaders in Egypt have stated many times their group is strengthened by the Hamas ascension to power. They have said they wish to stage a similar takeover of Egypt.