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Cairo Attack

Al-Qaeda ruled out in Cairo attack

Abdel-Rahman Hussein /  Feb 25, 2009

Though security sources say they have not yet concluded who was behind the recent bombing in Egypt's Khan el Khalili district, analysts have ruled out the possibility of global "terror" networks, such as al-Qaeda or the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, being responsible.

Egyptian tabloids have voiced conspiracy theories that claim Iran, Israel, Palestinian factions or even the government itself could have planned and executed the attacks at the popular tourist destination on February 22.

No one has claimed responsibility for it.

Diaa Rashwan, an expert on Islamist groups, believes the attack was "crude and primitive" in design and could not be the work of a terrorist organisation.

"No one is going to come out and claim responsibility for this attack [as] it is not the work of a big organisation. They would not start a terror campaign with an attack of such a small magnitude and create a security alert thus making a larger-scale attack more unfeasible," he told Al Jazeera.

Egyptian forensic experts have said the bomb was made of gunpowder and pebbles housed in a plastic container which weighed less than one kilogramme, comparable to illegal fireworks sold on the market.

Raswhan said 'extremist' groups such as Islamic Jihad and Gamaa Islamiya, which carried out attacks against security forces and tourists in the 1990s, have since renounced their violent agenda and turned to political dissent instead.

"If it wasn't for their renunciation, we would be living in hell. This would not be the Egypt we know," he said.

Shattered calm

Rashwan says the low-tech explosive device used was reminiscent of an attack in 2005 which also targeted tourists in the same Cairene district.

"This group might be similar to the group of 2005, and there might be a personal connection between them," he said.

On April 7, 2005, a suicide bomber killed himself and three foreign tourists when he detonated an explosive device in Moski, not far from the Khan el Khalili bazaar and Al Hussein Mosque.

Eleven Egyptians and seven tourists were injured.

Later that month, another suicide bomber wounded seven in an attack near the Egyptian Museum.

Splinter groups

Nabil Abdel-Fatah, the head of the sociology department at the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, believes that an Islamist splinter group which refuses to lay down arms could be behind the February 22 attack.

He said: "There is still not enough information to ascertain completely who the perpetrators might be, but because the attack was very similar to the terrorist attacks from the 1990s to 2005, it could be a group who did not agree to renounce violence."

"It might also be a sleeper cell affiliated to Salafist Jihadist groups or al-Qaeda but that is unlikely as the forensic reports indicate that the bomb used was a crude explosive device, which is not the hallmark of al-Qaeda," he said.

Abdel-Fatah believes that the bomb was designed to terrorise and deliver a message that even Cairo's well-guarded tourist spots are vulnerable to attack. Khan el Khalili is where the traditional souks (markets) have been for more than 1,000 years.

It is considered the commercial heart of the capital and a popular destination for tourists looking for ancient Pharoanic and Islamic memorabilia.

Search for motive

Egyptian security sources said they had arrested 14 people for questioning but released three the next day.

Gamal Zahran, an independent member of the Egyptian Peoples' Assembly and a professor of political science at Suez University, questioned who had the most to gain from the attack.

"The size and nature of the attack indicates that it was locally planned and is most likely the work of disgruntled unemployed youth," he said.

There are also fears that the attack may have targeted Egypt's revived tourism industry which has showed signs it may dip in the wake of the global financial crisis.

In 2008, 13 million tourists visited Egypt bringing in $11bn, according to the ministry of tourism.

Investment Bank EFG Hermes had already predicted a 15 per cent decline in tourism revenues in 2009.

Al-Qaeda ruled out in Cairo attack
Egyptian security forces say a crude device was used in the attack in Old Cairo / Image via EPA

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