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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Pakistani men may be involved in London terror attack

On Monday travel companies reported a rash of cancellations in the wake of this weekend's attacks in the Red Sea resort, which left at least 88 people dead and more than 100 injured. Egypt's tourism minister expressed concern on Sunday that the attacks would hit the $6.6 billion tourism industry, the country's biggest private-sector employer, in the short term.

Sharm el-Sheikh Police investigators were searching yesterday for six Pakistani men as the probe widened in the weekend terrorist attacks at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, and Egypt sacked its security chiefs of Sinai in an apparent acknowledgment of security failures. Police at checkpoints around the resort were circulating photographs of the six, who were apparently among a group of nine Pakistanis who arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh from Cairo on July 5, said two investigators, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the probe's sensitivity.

The nationalities of the men were not known. Police were not saying the Pakistanis were definitely involved, and investigators were also pursuing other threads. But any involvement of Pakistanis in Saturday's pre-dawn attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh in which a string of coordinated bombs killed 88 people and flattened part of a luxury hotel would imply an international, possibly al-Qaeda hand behind them. British authorities have been seeking several Pakistanis in connection to this month's deadly bombings in London, and Washington has raised the possibility that both the London and Sharm attacks were planned by al-Qaeda. Pakistani involvement would also represent a change in militant violence in Egypt, which in the past was seen as largely homegrown with little direct foreign hand.

But Roland Schmid, spokesman for travel group TUI Switzerland, told swissinfo that holidaymakers were unlikely to stay away from Egypt for long. "Looking at the immediate reaction, I think it might have a short-term effect for Sharm el-Sheikh but not for Egypt in the long-term," he said.

He added that while bookings would probably drop in the first instance, many tourists were likely to forget about the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings within a month or two. "But if there is another attack, say in Cairo, involving foreign tourists then that will probably cause a similar reaction to the one that followed Luxor," warned Fässler, who runs the Winterthur Centre for Crisis Intervention.

The crisis centre dispatched an international care team to Sharm el-Sheikh to help those traumatised by Saturday's events. Urs Fehr, spokesman for tour operator Kuoni Switzerland, said it was too early to draw conclusions on the long-term picture. But he echoed the view that there was unlikely to be a repeat of the sharp drop-off in bookings that followed the Luxor massacre.

Investigators were working several possible theories including possible Palestinian involvement and whether the Sharm attacks were linked to last October's bombings in two other Sinai resorts that killed 34 people, including Israelis. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said yesterday that al-Qaeda's command and communication system in his country has been eliminated and that the network could not have orchestrated terrorist attacks in London, Sharm el-Sheikh or elsewhere from Pakistan.


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