Page last updated at 03:07 GMT, Monday, 23 February 2009

Blast brings chaos to Cairo bazaar

By Yolande Knell
BBC News, Cairo

Egyptian police block the way near the Hussein mosque, Cairo
Security forces cordoned off the area after the blast
At night Khan al-Khalili, the sprawling 600-year-old bazaar in the heart of Cairo's Islamic Quarter, comes to life.

Locals and tourists fill the restaurants and coffee-shops - made famous by the writer Neguib Mahfouz - and stall-holders noisily hawk souvenirs and handicrafts.

On Sunday evening, witnesses described how the bustling scene turned to chaos and bloodshed following an explosion outside a cafe in the square by the Hussein mosque.

A middle-aged man, Mahmoud, said he heard a loud blast as he emerged from a nearby underpass.

"I saw children and a man who I thought was dead lying sprawled out on the ground. I saw someone's hand or foot - I'm not sure what it was - and a lot of blood.

"People started running in all directions and they were stepping on those who were still lying down because they were panicking. They were running for their lives."

Conflicting reports

A young French woman was killed by the bombing. More than 20 people - most of them French - were injured. Orange ambulances with their sirens blaring took them away to hospitals.

We just came out to get something to eat and go shopping, then we felt the earth shaking and there were loud shouts
German tourist in Khan al-Khalili

Security forces arrived quickly to cordon off the market area and holiday-makers, some pale from shock, were hurried past waiting journalists.

"I don't know what happened," said one German man. "We just came out to get something to eat and go shopping, then we felt the earth shaking and there were loud shouts. It was frightening."

There were conflicting reports of what had happened at the scene. Some sources said explosives were left under a bench in a plastic bag.

A member of parliament, Haidar Baghdadi, who was briefed by Interior Ministry officials, told reporters: "It seems that two bombs were dropped from the rooftop of the Hussein Hotel. The second device did not explode but it's been made safe. Police held all the guests in the hotel and searched them but the building has two exits."

The authorities are now reported to have made arrests in connection with the attack but Mr Baghdadi confirmed that no group had claimed responsibility. Asked who he thought was to blame, he replied: "An Islamic radical movement."

Fears for business

There was a series of deadly bombings in Egypt between 2004 and 2006. The last in Cairo took place in the same neighbourhood where a suicide bomber killed three tourists. The authorities said militants loyal to al-Qaeda were behind explosions which took place at Red Sea holiday resorts.

April 2006: Bombs at Dahab, on the Red Sea, kill at least 23
April 2005: Bombing at Khan al-Khalili kills three people, including Frenchman and American
July 2005: At least 88 people die in bomb attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh, on the Red Sea
March 2005: Hungarian couple stabbed while kissing near Khan al-Khalili
Oct 2004: Bombs at Red Sea resorts of Taba and Nuweiba kill at least 34 people
1997: Gunmen fire on tourists in Cairo and in Luxor, killing 68
During the 1990s, Gamaa Islamiyaa (Islamic Group) claimed it carried out several attacks on Westerners, including one which killed more than 60 people in Luxor in Upper Egypt.

Tourism took time to recover from such events, but has since boomed. Last year, more than 12 million visitors came to Egypt.

Already there were fears of a drop in numbers with the effects of a global economic slowdown taking hold. Business owners in Khan al-Khalili are now worried holiday-makers will be scared away.

"God curse them, whoever did this," railed Gamillah, who runs two shops within view of the Hussein mosque. "Honestly, they have hurt all the people in this area. This is a commercial district and a place for tourists. A lot of people work here. I have 20 workers - that means 20 families relying on my business. This is not fair."

"We ask God to help us and we tell all the world that Egypt is safe."

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08 Oct 08 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Egypt
06 Nov 08 |  Country profiles

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