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Attacks kill over 80 in Egyptian resort

The lobby of the Ghazala Gardens hotel in Sharm el-Sheikh was heavily damaged in one attack

(Keystone)

More than 80 people have died after a series of attacks in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. A group close to al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility.

About 1,000 tourists from Switzerland are in the Red Sea resort but there is, as yet, no reports of casualties among them. Swiss tour operators and the foreign ministry set up hotlines after the attacks.

More than 100 other people were injured when car bombs ripped through a bazaar and tourist hotels in the city.

Police said most of the victims were Egyptian nationals.

Shaken European tourists spoke of mass panic and hysteria as people fled the carnage, with bodies strewn across the roads, people screaming and sirens wailing.

The regional governor said two car bombs and possibly a suitcase bomb had rocked the resort that is popular with divers.

One blast tore the front off the Ghazala Gardens Hotel in Naama Bay, the site of most of the resort's luxury hotels, where people were feared trapped in the rubble.

Car explosion

A car broke into the hotel compound and exploded in front of the building, South Sinai Governor Mustafa Afifi said. Egyptian tourist hotels always have police guards at the gates.

It was the worst ever attack on tourist targets in Egypt. Militant Islamists trying to bring down the government killed 58 tourists and four Egyptians at an ancient temple near Luxor in 1997.

Britons, French, Spaniards, Dutch, Qataris, Kuwaitis and Egyptians were among the dead and wounded, police sources said.

Egypt's tourism minister worried that the attacks would hit the $6.6 billion (SFr8.55 billion) tourism industry, the country's biggest private sector employer, in the short term.

The first explosion hit the old market in Sharm el-Sheikh town shortly after 1 a.m. (2200 GMT), filling the air with fire and smoke, residents said.

Horrible setback

"I saw a car flying up in the air, people running," restaurant owner Yehya Mohammed said by telephone. "I do not think I will ever forget this in my life. This is a horrible setback for tourism here."

A rescue official said many wounded were Egyptian workers gathered at a cafe in the old market. Seventeen of the dead were burnt beyond recognition.

The blasts came at a time when many tourists were still out in bars and markets in the popular and hitherto safe resort.

"Many of the injuries are very serious and they are in critical condition," said a doctor at Sharm el-Sheikh International Hospital.

Two hotels

About a quarter of the Swiss in the resort (226 people) had travelled with the Hotelplan tour operator and were in two hotels, the Ghazala Gardens and Iberot Palace.

Another 371 Swiss had flown with Switzerland's largest operator, Kuoni.

Neither the tour operators, which also include TUI, nor the Swiss foreign ministry had heard reports of possible Swiss casualties.

And the Zurich-based Mövenpick group said that its two hotels in the area had not been attacked and all guests and staff were safe.

A care team from the Elvia holiday insurance firm has flown to Sharm el-Sheikh to look after the Swiss tourists.

Hotline

The telephone hotline number of the tour operators is 044 283 39 99. The Swiss foreign ministry's hotline for individual travellers is 031 324 98 08.

Hotelplan and Kuoni later announced that special flights had been arranged to bring home those who wished to return immediately.

The foreign ministry strongly condemned the "barbaric" attack on innocent civilians and said it was shocked at what had happened.

It said its crisis team was in permanent contact with the Swiss embassy in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, which had sent a representative to Sharm el-Sheikh.

In a statement, the ministry offered its condolences to the families and friends of the victims, and to the government and people of Egypt.

It added that it hoped that everything possible would be done to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Criminal gangs

"What happened early this morning is rejected by all people. These criminal gangs will not be able to prevent people from travelling and moving," Egyptian Tourism Minister Ahmed el-Maghrabi told Egyptian television, but he said: "These incidents will have an effect in the short term (on tourism)."

Foreigners have been targeted in Egypt in earlier attacks.

Three tourists were killed and others wounded in two bombings in the Egyptian capital Cairo in April.

In October, 34 people were killed by car and truck bombs at resorts popular with Israelis, mostly at the Taba Hilton on the Israeli border. Those attacks were further north, on the eastern coast of the Sinai Peninsula closer to Israel.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Tour operators' hotline:
044 283 39 99
Hotline of the Swiss foreign ministry:
031 324 98 08

end of infobox

In brief

A group of Islamic extremists opened fire on a group of tourists near Luxor on November 17 1997, killing 62 people, including 36 Swiss.

Swiss tourists avoided Egypt as a holiday destination for several years after the attack.

The last serious attack was on October 7 last year against the Hilton hotel in Taba, also on the Sinai peninsula, in which 34 people were killed.

end of infobox


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