Egyptian Investigators Look at Israeli Arrivals
A state of emergency was declared in Cairo Saturday, October 9, two days after al Qaeda suicide car bombers killed at least 33 tourists, most of them Israelis, in three Sinai resorts and demolished the Taba Hilton. Roadblocks were thrown up on the Egyptian capital’s thoroughfares and access to the big hotels blocked – both as precautions against further attacks and to facilitate the hunt for suspects.
Egyptian sources tell debkafile that the Istanbul bombings last year demonstrated that al Qaeda and its offshoots invest too heavily in the creation of surrogate local networks to use them only once. They immediately followed up their strikes against the Jewish synagogues with a second wave against the British consulate and banks. On the cards, therefore, is a follow-up of deadly suicidal violence in Egypt, Israel or again in Sinai, which may be already in the works. Acting on the assumption that it was not over, the Israeli prime minister’s adviser on terrorism, Danny Arditi, issued a fresh warning to Israeli travelers in Sinai who survived the first round of suicide bombings to return home without delay. The United States also advised nationals to stay out of northeastern Sinai for the next three months.
Israeli officials were at first warmly complimentary about the close cooperation between Egypt and Israel in aid and rescue operations in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. By Saturday, the death toll had risen to 33 as more bodies were dug out of the rubble of the Taba Hilton. At least 60 Israelis are still missing. Their close relatives were asked to submit blood samples for DNA identification. The Egyptians, who are taking blood samples and fingerprints from all the dead victims, will not release bodies to Israel without positive identification.
Friday night, the senior Egyptian intelligence officer Habib Adli, put in charge of the inquiry, ordered a check to be run on all the vehicles and passengers that entered Sinai through the Taba border terminal between Israel and Egypt. Tens of thousands of Israelis headed for the exotic Red Sea resorts for the Succoth festival, some in cars, and they would all have been recorded by Egyptian officials as they passed through.
To isolate his inquiry at the Taba terminal, Adli ordered the Rafah checkpoint between Gaza and Egyptian Sinai to remain closed.
Saturday, October 9, Shin Beit Director Avi Dichter conferred with Egyptian intelligence officials at Taba to coordinate the operation which, according to debkafile‘s counter-terror sources, raises uncomfortable questions that Israeli counter-terror officials have not wished to address until now. The fact is that the Taba terminal is open only to Israeli and foreign passport holders. This naturally includes Israeli Arabs, who were indeed among the casualties. Palestinians who may access Sinai through Rafah would have needed a false Israeli or foreign passport to be processed through Taba.
The check ordered by Adli at Taba may force Israeli counter-terror authorities to rethink their reluctance to consider that an al Qaeda cell is present in the country, operating either in conjunction with Palestinian terrorist groups or as a sleeper in an Israeli Arab community. Fearing an Egyptian attempt to shift the blame for the Sinai massacre from their own intelligence services to Israeli agencies, Israeli officials argue against the logic of al Qaeda bombers already organized in the country taking the chance of crossing into Sinai, when the Israeli resort town of Eilat was easily accessible. The Egyptians counter that Osama bin Laden’s operatives would not need to cross over. In the Madrid rail bombings, as in Istanbul, they activated local groups.
Above and beyond this exchange, top Israeli security officials refer with the greatest respect to the skills and integrity of the Egyptian investigation leader Adli as an expert of international standing on Islamic terror, who can be counted on not to be influenced by pressure from any quarter including his own president. They therefore advise taking seriously his thinking on the Sinai bombings probe.