French tourist killed, 20 wounded in Egypt attack

Sun Feb 22, 2009 6:37pm EST
 
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By Will Rasmussen

CAIRO (Reuters) - A bomb killed a French teenager and wounded at least 20 other people in a crowded square near a popular tourist bazaar in the Egyptian capital Cairo on Sunday, officials said.

The blast was the first fatal attack on tourists in Egypt since bombs killed at least 23 people at an Egyptian resort in the Sinai peninsula in 2006. Sunday's bomb went off near the 14th-century Khan el-Khalili market in eastern Cairo, where tourists shop for trinkets and sit at outdoor cafes.

"I was standing in front of my store selling to the tourists and we heard a big explosion," a shop owner told Egyptian state television. "We ran away, and when we came back we saw bodies lying on the ground."

The Health Ministry said a 17-year-old French girl was killed and 13 French tourists, three Saudis and four Egyptians had been wounded. The German Foreign Ministry said one German had been injured.

Egyptian state new agency MENA quoted security officials as saying the bomb had exploded under a bench in a garden in the square, and that a second bomb had been defused by security forces.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but security sources said two suspects had been taken into custody.

Islamic militants have hit Egypt's tourist industry in recent years through bomb and shooting attacks, though there has been a lull since 2006.

The bombing is embarrassing for the government, which has tried hard to project an image of security and stability, but angered public opinion at home and across the Arab world by helping Israel to enforce a blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, and failing to condemn its recent onslaught on the Palestinian territory more forcefully.

Security sources had earlier told Reuters that four people had died -- two tourists and two Egyptian street children. A similar blast in the same area killed three tourists in 2005.

The office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement in Paris that one French national had died and seven others had been wounded.

SOCCER MATCH

The attack happened just after dark as people were gathering around coffee shops to watch a televised soccer match, a witness, who did not give his name, told Reuters.

"There was a big noise but at first we thought it could be people celebrating," he said. "But then some people running away started screaming and fell on the ground. There was a lot of screaming."

Egyptian television showed spots of blood on the paved square as police officers combed the area, which was quickly cordoned off as ambulances and police cars poured in.

"We heard a huge sound but we didn't know what it was," a witness told state television. "These are just innocent tourists who are not involved in politics coming to visit our country."  Continued...

 
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