Egyptian police said on Monday they have arrested three suspects over a bomb attack at a famed Cairo bazaar that killed a French teenager and wounded 25 people, most of them tourists.Sunday’s attack was the first deadly violence since 2006 against Westerners in Egypt, where tourism is a key foreign currency earner, but there has been no claim of responsibility.
The bomb blast ripped through a street lined with cafes and restaurants in Khan al-Khalili, a market dating back to the 14th century that is one of the Egyptian capital’s main tourist attractions.
“Three people there were arrested on the site as suspects after the attack,” a police official said on Monday. “Others are being questioned as witnesses.”
The dead 17-year-old French girl was part of a tour group of 54 teenagers from the Paris region who were on a trip to buy souvenirs in the market before heading home on Monday.
“There was a very powerful explosion. Then screams and blood. We all started running,” said Romy Janiw, 28, one of the seven adults accompanying the teenagers.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed “deep sorrow” over the attack, while Prime Minister Francois Fillon said his government “strongly condemns this criminal act whose blind violence shows its absurdity.”
It was the first deadly attack on tourists in Cairo since a bombing in the same neighbourhood killed two tourists and wounded 18 in 2005.
A series of bombings killed scores of people in Red Sea resorts on the Sinai peninsula from 2004 to 2006 that were blamed on militants loyal to Al-Qaeda.
Sunday’s attack took place outside a hotel across the square from the Hussein mosque, one of Egypt’s oldest places of worship.
It wounded 17 French tourists, including one seriously, as well as a 37-year-old German, three Saudis and four Egyptians, officials said.
Mohammed Ismail, who worked in a nearby cafe and was lightly wounded in the attack, said he was watching a football game in a cafe and had stepped out onto the street before the bomb exploded.
“I didn’t see the bomb,” he told AFP after leaving hospital. “The force of the blast threw me. All I could see was grey smoke. Then I fell unconscious.”
Witnesses said the force of the explosion shook the surrounding buildings. “The building shook and the books fell of the shelf,” said a woman who worked in a store that sold Korans.
But early Monday, shops and restaurants around the Hussein mosque square had reopened for business and customers began trickling in.
There were conflicting accounts about how the attack was carried out.
Witnesses and a police official told AFP two rudimentary bombs were thrown from a rooftop overlooking the street. The second device failed to detonate and was blown up in a controlled explosion, a police source said.
A Western diplomat who accompanied the wounded to hospital said they told police investigators that the bombs had been hurled at them from a rooftop.
But Amin Rady, a member of the Egyptian parliament national security committee, told AFP that police suspected that a “primitive” bomb had been placed under a concrete bench, which was shattered by the explosion.
The head of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University — Sunni Islam’s highest religious authority — condemned the bombing.
“Those who carried out this criminal act are traitors to their own religion and their nation, and they are distorting the image of Islam which rejects terrorism and bans the killing of innocents,” Sheikh Mohammed Sayyed al-Tantawi said.
Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, whose nationals were among the injured, “strongly condemned” the attack, the official SPA news agency reported.
Egypt was struck by a spate of deadly attack on Western tourists by Islamic militant groups in the 1990s that dealt a savage blow to the vital tourism sector.
Last year, 13 million tourists visited Egypt, earning 11 billion dollars in revenue. The industry also employs 12.6 percent of the workforce.