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Bedouin man confesses to selling explosives

A Bedouin man confessed to selling explosives that may have been used in three car bombings targeting Israeli tourists in Egypt, security officials said Sunday.
Egyptian rescue workers search one of the floors of the damaged Hilton Taba Hotel, on Saturday.
Egyptian rescue workers search one of the floors of the damaged Hilton Taba Hotel, on Saturday. Amr Nabil / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Bedouin tribesman has confessed to selling explosives that might have been used in three car bombings targeting Israeli tourists, and investigators were looking into Palestinian militant involvement, Egyptian security officials said Sunday.

The tribesman said the buyers, whom he couldn't identify, had told him the explosives would be used in the Palestinian territories, an Egyptian investigator told The Associated Press.

"The explosives were sold on the assumption that they were going to the Palestinians," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Three car bombs, each packed with 440 pounds of explosives, exploded Thursday night, one at the Taba Hilton just south of the Egypt-Israel border and two at a town of beach bungalows, Ras Shitan, 35 miles south on the Red Sea.

Israeli rescue crews finished their work at the shattered Hilton and went home Sunday evening, saying prayers for the dead as Egyptian civil defense officers cleared the rubble with axes and sledgehammers under generator-powered floodlights.

Egypt put the death toll at 34. Israeli Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh said at the Taba border crossing that 32 bodies had been found, plus 14 body parts that may include the remains of others.

The dead included Egyptians, Israelis, Italians, a Russian woman and others from the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe, he said.

Naveh also said that in addition to the Isuzu pickup truck that exploded at the hotel, a suicide bomber inside detonated another bomb.

"To our relief, the bomber who entered the hotel did not enter the hotel restaurants, something which would have brought down at least half the hotel," he said.

Denise Pomero of Italy, whose daughters, Jessica Rinaudo, 28, and Sabrina Rinaudo, 29, died at the Taba Hilton, placed a basket of pink and white flowers at the edge of a dusty hole to the basement shopping concourse.

Their father, Luigi, cried as he looked over the scene.

Dozens detained
Egyptian security officials said some of dozens of Bedouins detained for questioning after the car bombings in Taba and the resort area of Ras Shitan to the south have been cooperating with authorities and have provided valuable information about the explosives.

Sinai is inhabited by about 10 semi-nomadic Bedouin tribes, whose population is estimated at about 4,000. Many tribesmen are known for their knowledge of Sinai's vast deserts and mountain ranges, while police accuse some of smuggling weapons, drugs and people across Egypt's border with Israel and Gaza.

Israeli officials have complained in the past of weapons and explosives being smuggled into the Gaza strip from Sinai. The Israelis maintain they come through tunnels dug beneath the Egypt-Gaza border.

Palestinian and Egyptian officials also told AP that Egyptian security and intelligence officers have been discussing the attacks with officials from the Palestinian factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The Egyptians were seeking information about members of the groups upset about Egypt's plan to help secure the Gaza Strip in the event of an Israeli withdrawal. Egypt has come under fire from some Arabs for allegedly aiding Israel; Egypt maintains it needs to ensure stability along its border in the event of a security vacuum left by Israel's departure.

The officials said Egypt is not suggesting the two factions were behind the attacks, but rather are probing the possibility that disgruntled defectors from the groups might have been involved.

These discussions were taking place in Gaza and in some Middle East capitals, one official said without specifying which ones.

The Egyptians also reportedly asked Israel to provide information about specific Palestinians who recently entered their country.

On Saturday, Egyptian investigators said they suspected a group of eight to 10 terrorists carried out the attacks, possibly slipping in from Saudi Arabia or Jordan on speed boats.

Al-Qaida suspected
Israel has blamed al-Qaida for the attacks and the United States has said it suspects an al-Qaida role.

The Egyptian investigators also were leaning toward an al-Qaida connection, saying a local sleeper cell may have been awakened to carry out the attacks, Egypt's first major terrorist strike in seven years.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said such a group would almost certainly be linked to Ayman al-Zawahri, who led the Egyptian Islamic Jihad before merging his group with al-Qaida in 1998. The Egypt-born Zawahri is now bin Laden's top deputy.

On Sunday night, one of three previously unknown groups that has claimed responsibility for the attacks posted a statement on the Internet saying it was solely responsible and warning of more attacks against "the despotic government in Egypt" and against the Israeli embassies in Egypt and Jordan.

There was no way of verifying the claim by the Brigades of the Martyr Abdullah Azzam, which said it was affiliated with al-Qaida.

As Israeli rescuers crossed back into Eilat on Sunday evening, they held a memorial service for the victims.

The head of the Eilat rescue team, Yitzhak Hillel, said Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, and army rabbi Lt. Col. Shimon Elmaliah chanted a standard memorial prayer, inserting the words "all those who were killed in the terror attack by despicable murderers" in the spot where one would normally put the name of the deceased.

Israel's government last month warned citizens not to travel to the Sinai, citing a "concrete" terror threat, but thousands of tourists ignored the warning.

Officials said Sunday that Israel at the time also contacted Egypt, saying it suspected a Palestinian group might infiltrate the area and shoot Israeli tourists in Taba.