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In Egypt, resurgence of militant Islamists

Third Sinai blast in 18 months shows new strength of domestic terror groups.

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"We are continuing," says Hany Aly, manager of the Neptune Hotel. "Our hotel, diving center, and coffee shop are full.... Life is going back to normal. This is to show those who set off these bombs that we are strong."

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Located next to one of the bombing sites, the Neptune Hotel had its windows shattered. New glass has already been ordered, Aly said.

There were also several small antiterror protests in Dahab Tuesday. About 100 people marched through Dahab in remembrance of the blasts' victims on Tuesday.

Many Dahab residents and visitors seemed shocked by the horror of the bombings. "I was sitting on a high balcony and could see everything," says Mr. Nawar. "There was a big fire and the land was shaking like an earthquake. I heard people crying and an Egyptian boy, maybe eight to nine years old, looking for his father. It was terrible."

Nawar, a Christian, says he may take his faith more seriously now: He would have been at the Ghazali market when the blast occurred if a friend hadn't delayed him.

The attack came during the Egyptian spring holiday of Shem al-Nessim and a day before what Egypt calls Sinai Liberation Day, marking the return of the peninsula by Israel after the two countries agreed to a peace deal in 1979. That peace deal, and the repressive approach of President Hosni Mubarak's government to all Islamist movements, has long made the country a target of militants. Much of Al Qaeda's senior leadership, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's chief deputy, are exiled Egyptians.

While there is no evidence that Mr. Zawahiri's last videotape from March, or Mr. bin Laden's long screed on Sunday urging attacks against dozens of nations, helped trigger the strike, experts say Al Qaeda continues to serve as a potent guiding light for militants.

Bin Laden's audiotape, released by Al Jazeera, came too close to attacks that would have taken at least weeks of planning to be directly involved. But Al Qaeda, with its senior leaders cut off from directly contacting global followers, has evolved into a source of inspiration for a host of smaller Islamist groups who may share its goals but plan and execute attacks on their own.

That's been the pattern worldwide. Global terror attacks have soared since 2003, with anger at the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan inspiring new operatives.

"Virtually every single attack since 9/11 can be laid at the doors of other terrorist groups, even though they may have been inspired by bin Laden's ideology of global jihad,'' says M.J. Gohel, president of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, which focuses on security issues. "After 9/11, Al Qaeda effectively became decentralized ... and it continues as a deadly source of ideological inspiration for mass murder but there isn't any kind of central organization."

Increasingly, that's the view of other experts. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Dia Rashwan, one of Egypt's leading scholars on Islamist groups, says small, cellular groups are emerging without direct ties to Al Qaeda or each other.

He says these new structures make it much harder for intelligence services to penetrate them than the old, more highly coordinated groups.