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Out There News

Random bombs do not fit Egyptian militants' strategy

By Paul Eedle 

CAIRO, June 19, Reuter - Five nail bombs that have killed and maimed innocent civilians have taken political violence in Egypt into a puzzling and frightening new phase. It is no longer clear who is fighting whom or why. 

The bombs do not fit the declared strategy of the main Moslem militant group which has been waging a campaign of violence for more than a year, trying to force the collapse of the government and turn Egypt into a purist Islamic state. El-Gama'a el-Islamiya (Islamic Group) has targeted police, Christians and tourists since March last year. It has explained its aims in frequent calls and faxes to reporters: to force police to stop torture and release detainees, and to undermine the government by damaging the vital tourist industry. 

The nail bombs belong to a different logic. They have killed 17 Egyptians and injured 69 -- the ordinary people whose support any revolutionary group ought to want to win. They have provoked some frustration with the government but have stirred an overwhelming wave of popular disgust and anger at the militants. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the bombs and the Gama'a specifically denied it had anything to do with the first of them.Gama'a sympathisers say the group does not target innocent Egyptians. 

Police say the bombs were all of the same type. All were packed with nails to cause maximum casualties and all were planted in places where ordinary Egyptians were almost certain to be hurt. 

The first ripped through a crowded coffee house on central Cairo's biggest square on February 26, killing three people and injuring 20. The Wadi el-Nil coffee house was a favourite haunt of young tourists and a Swede and a Turk were among the dead. But the third person killed and most of the injured were Egyptian. If tourists were the target, the bombers clearly were not worried about killing and injuring local people, even during the holy Moslem fasting month of Ramadan. 

The second bomb, on May 21, was the bloodiest in the series. It killed seven people and injured 20, all Egyptians who happened to be walking along the busy street when it exploded in or under a parked car. The street runs behind a police station in the centre of Cairo but the chance of hurting police was slight compared with the near-certainty of killing people on the pavement.

The third bomb, on May 27, exploded near a police checkpoint in the suburb of Nasr City. It injured three policemen but also wounded two civilians. The fourth exploded in an underpass on the main road to the Pyramids, killing two Egyptians in a Mercedes, injuring five British tourists in a bus and wounding 15 Egyptians. 

The fifth blew up late on Friday evening in the main street running through the poor northern district of Shubra, killing seven people and injuring 15. Many of the injured were horribly damaged by nails blasted into their bodies with a force that peppered the metal shutters of a shop across the street from the explosion. 

The bomb was placed in or near the construction site of an extension to Cairo's underground railway system, which could conceivably be interpreted as an attack on a foreign business target since the metro is being built by a French company. But again, it was all but certain that Egyptians would be hurt. The bomb went off at the busiest time of the evening, when people go shopping and stroll in the street after recovering from the long, hot summer afternoons. 

If the Gama'a continues to deny it planted the bombs, there are several possibilities. The Gama'a could be lying. A splinter group, more radical than the mainstream, could be responsible. The intelligence service of a government hostile to Egypt, such as Iraq, Iran or Sudan, could be involved. Or there could be a totally new player in the game. The one certainty is that this is violence of a new order and Egyptians are frightened.