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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Egypt investigating Hamas links to Cairo blast targeting Westerners

CAIRO — A bombing in a popular Egyptian market that targeted Western tourists appeared linked to the Hamas regime in the neighboring Gaza Strip.   

Egyptian security sources and analysts said Hamas could have ordered the improvised explosive device attack in the Cairo market on Feb. 22, in which a French student was killed and 20 others injured. They said three Palestinian infiltrators linked to Hamas were being sought as suspects in the bombing.

"Foreign sides may be involved in this blast with the aim of destabilizing Egypt and hampering its efforts to establish a permanent truce in the Gaza Strip," Egyptian attorney Mokhtar Nouh, who represents Islamist defendants, said.

Security sources said the three Palestinian suspects were believed to have infiltrated from the Gaza Strip through the tunnel network that connects to Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, Middle East Newsline reported. They said the Palestinians were sent by Hamas during heightened tensions with Egypt, which has refused to permanently reopen the border terminal at Rafah.

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"We know that there are elements within Hamas who want a confrontation with Egypt," a security source said. "They are encouraged by Iran and others."

The sources and analysts said the makeshift bombing in the popular tourist area of Cairo was not the work of Al Qaida. They said the IED, which weighed 1.5 kilogram, was a crude bomb that reflected rudimentary skills.

"I think they are Islamist beginners," Egyptian political analyst Diaa Rashwan said.

In 2008, Egypt appeared to have blocked the reemergence of Al Qaida-aligned groups. The regime of President Hosni Mubarak won the cooperation of several imprisoned insurgency leaders, and they responded with a renouncement of violence in the name of Islam as well as a truce offer to the United States.

The semi-official Egyptian daily Al Masaiya reported that Egyptian security agencies were searching for three Palestinians linked to Hamas. The newspaper said security forces have increased checkpoints in and around Cairo.

On Feb. 24, Egypt's official Al Ahram daily reported that security agencies believed a small Islamist cell was responsible for the bombing. The newspaper, disputing other accounts, said the bomb was placed on a marble bench in the Cairo market rather than thrown from a balcony toward pedestrians.

The analysts said Hamas operatives and supporters have been streaming into the Cairo area over the last 18 months. They said some of them were able to finance pro-Hamas activities by Egyptian Islamists.

"This could spark a new wave of terrorism in Egypt," former Egyptian Security chief director Gen. Fuad Alam said.

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