Attacks in Egypt: homegrown or part of global jihad?
Several obscure Islamist groups have claimed credit for Thursday's suicide attacks.
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Al Qaeda and likeminded jihad groups have long attacked Egypt for its peace agreement with Israel and its close ties to the US. Egypt receives more than $2 billion a year in US military and general aid, making it the third-largest recipient in the world after Israel and Iraq.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Zawahiri, who merged his organization with Al Qaeda in 1998, sees the US as the main threat to Muslims in the world. He has repeatedly urged attacks on America and its allies. "Zawahiri and the people like him fled Egypt and shifted their focus to the US,'' says Zayat.
In that respect, those hard-liners may have now come full circle, seeing Egypt's efforts at mediating with Israel as a betrayal and the Sinai resorts filled with Israeli tourists as rich targets. To many militant groups, Israel and the US are seen as one and the same, particularly since the collapse of peace talks and the start of the latest intifada four years ago.
"If the people who did this want us to disengage from the peace process, then they've made a mistake,'' says Magdy Rady, the spokesman for the Egyptian cabinet. "I don't think it will make the Palestinians reluctant or the Israelis reluctant to continue to work with us for peace."
The aftermath of the attack also showed the deep and lingering suspicions toward their old enemies on the part of many Egyptians. Diaa Rashwan, an expert on terrorism and Islamist politics at the government-sponsored Al Ahram think tank, says he believes a faction within Israel may have led the attack to make it difficult for Egypt to continue its mediation efforts.
"I'm ready to change my views if new information comes to light,'' says Mr. Rashwan. "If Israel's hypothesis that it's Al Qaeda is confirmed then that will be a real crisis for Egypt's economy, because it will probably mean that they have, the ability to carry out more attacks here."
Mr. Rady says the government is convinced that Thursday's attack is not a return to full-scale violence, and doubts it will have much impact on tourism. He says the attack appears far more like a strike on Israel than an attempt to destabilize Egypt.
"We don't feel the balance we've achieved has been disturbed,'' he says. "This event has a very special character in terms of location and timing, so we have a strong feeling that it's not the first in a series."
Also underlining the government's apparent belief that it is not facing a crisis was President Hosni Mubarak's decision to carry on with a scheduled trip to Italy and France over the weekend.
Dozens of people have been detained since the attack for questioning, but Mr. Rady says that he can't confirm any arrests.
Anonymous Egyptian security officials, quoted by newswires, say that 15 people have been arrested so far, most Bedouin tribesman who were believed to supply the explosives and provide other logistics for the attacks.
Poor Bedouin in the Sinai Peninsula, who have traversed the region's borders for generations, are involved in the smuggling of marijuana and people into Israel, and officials said any involvement on their part was likely for money, rather than ideology.