Egypt on edge after fatal bazaar blast

Security is tighter than ever around Egypt's main tourist sites, one day after a bomb in Cairo's old bazaar killed two tourists and raised the spectre of a fresh wave of attacks.

    A Frenchwoman and a US national died in Thursday's attack

    Thursday's blast, apparently caused by a booby-trapped motorcycle, was

    the first attack against foreigners in the capital in more than

    seven years and came amid unprecedented upheaval on Egypt's

    political scene.

    Egyptian Tourism Minister Ahmad al-Maghrabi said a

    Frenchwoman and a US national had been killed in the blast, while

    the third victim had not yet been identified.

    He said three Americans, two French and four Egyptians were

    being treated at the hospital. One of the French nationals was

    in a serious condition while the other wounded were stable, he added.

    No claim

    There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast,

    but the authorities swiftly launched an investigation and tightened

    security around the country's main tourist attractions.

    The US authorities warned their citizens to avoid tourist hubs

    in the capital pending further information on the nature of the


    The blast struck in the heart of
    ancient Cairo

    "While there is no independent information to suggest that this

    alleged attack was a part of a larger effort, all residents of and

    visitors to Egypt should be especially vigilant and avoid areas of

    Cairo where large numbers of tourists congregate," a US embassy

    statement said.

    The Egyptian authorities attempted to play down the blast.

    "According to preliminary information, it was an individual

    operation, its perpetrator having used a home-made device consisting

    of powder and nails," said government spokesman Majdi Radi.

    The blast struck one of the main alleyways to the famed Khan

    al-Khalili bazaar, which is in the heart of ancient Islamic Cairo

    and is popular with souvenir-hunting tourists.

    "I saw a man burning, his galabaya (traditional dress) was on

    fire, his back was badly burnt as he lay on the ground," an

    eyewitness said shortly after the


    The explosion plunged the district into darkness and the

    usually bustling streets of the famed market were soon deserted, as

    tourists fled the area and shop owners hastily shut down their


    Few tourists around

    On Friday, tourists were scarce in the Khan al-Khalili area and

    security heavily deployed around the nearby al-Azhar mosque.

    "Our immediate concern is to take the appropriate measures and

    help those who have been affected by the explosion, but we should

    not be intimidated," al-Maghrabi said.

    He said the rest of the French group that suffered

    casualties in the explosion had continued its tour with a visit to

    the Saqqara pyramids just outside Cairo and was due to travel to

    Upper Egypt later on Friday. 

    "There is no indication for the moment that people are

    cancelling their trips to Egypt"

    Ahmad al-Maghrabi,
    Egyptian Tourism Minister

    "There is no indication for the moment that people are

    cancelling their trips to Egypt," the tourism minister added. 

    Egypt is a popular destination for tourists because of its

    Pharaonic monuments, Nile cruises and the Red Sea coast.

    The Egyptian economy is heavily dependent on tourism and has

    been severely hit by previous attacks.

    In October, 34 people, including several

    Israeli tourists, were killed and more than 10 wounded in triple

    bomb attacks on the Hilton hotel in Taba and two nearby resorts in the

    Sinai peninsula.

    The Sinai bombings were the first such attacks against

    foreigners in Egypt since a wave of deadly bombings in the


    Foiled attacks

    According to police sources, the authorities had foiled a series

    of attacks against foreigners in the Khan al-Khalili bazaar allegedly

    masterminded by the Islamic Jihad group.

    One of the former group's leaders at the time was

    Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, now al-Qaida chief Usama bin Ladin's

    right-hand man.

    The fresh unrest in the capital comes amid moves

    by the opposition to Egyptian President Husni Mubarak's rule over

    the country and growing calls for lifting the 24-year-old state of


    Mufti Ali Jumaa, Egypt's highest religious authority, condemned

    the attack and said in a statement that "it could only serve the

    purpose of those who are jealous of the country's stability".



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