Sharm el-Sheikh, July 23 (AFP): “They are mad. What’s the point of all this,” cried a young British barmaid after a succession of massive bomb blasts transformed Egypt’s red sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh from a holiday-makers’ paradise into an inferno of blood and destruction.
“They won’t go to heaven. No religion can accept such a thing,” said Carol, who works in a bar on the glitzy Naama Bay strip near a luxury hotel that was bombed early today.
The explosions shattered the night in Egypt’s most popular resort where thousands of tourists from Europe, russia and gulf arab countries, as well egyptians marking a national holiday, were vacationing.
According to medical sources, at least 88 people were killed, including foreign tourists, and more than 200 wounded when at least three explosions went off within minutes of each other shortly after 10 pm GMT early this morning.
The deadliest attack was carried out by a suicide bomber who rammed his explosives-laden car through the security barrier of the Ghazala Garden Hotel and into the reception lobby.
At least 30 people were killed in this blast alone and medics feared more would be found dead in the rubble of the badly damaged structure.
“The explosion was so strong that it shook the building I was in at the other end of the road, almost a kilometre away from the Ghazala,” said taxi driver Naguy Teema.
As the sun rose to reveal scenes of destruction across the popular strip of hotels, restaurants and clubs known as Peace Road, an Italian tourist was desperately trying to find his missing son.
“My wife and I were strolling near the shops, not far from the hotel, and our 17-year-old son stayed behind, in his room,” said Giuseppe Pasquale.
“When the explosions went off, we rushed back to the Ghazala but he was not in his room. I don’t know what to do. They wouldn’t let me in to the hospital,” the distressed father said.
The attacks occurred at the height of the tourist season and proved to be even deadlier than the 1997 attack in the Nile town of Luxor that killed 62 people including 58 foreigners.
Panicked tourists poured out of the many night spots dotting the Naama Bay strip and small groups of haggard foreigners were seen dragging their luggage among the debris to board buses leaving the resort on Egypt’s “Riviera.”
“Lots of people have already warned us they were leaving in the morning,” one hotel receptionist said.
Issam Ibrahim runs the Layali al-Helmiya cafe near the old market area of Sharm that was also hit.
“It was hell, the explosion sent balls of fire flying around. There were two children playing football, they were torn to shreds,” he said, adding that there were few tourists in this area at the time of the explosion.
Doctors were being dispatched from Cairo to assist the medical staff at the local hospital. Residents and tourists were also invited to donate blood as emergency services were overwhelmed by the number of casualties.
In a short statement read on television, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said: “This will only make us more determined to pursue terrorism and dig it out by the roots... We will not give in to its blackmail, or seek a truce.”
World leaders condemned the bombings but an Iranian government spokesman said Washington had contributed. “Unfortunately a simplistic, wrong approach by the United States in fighting terrorism has made the world unsafe,” he said.
Mubarak cut short a holiday on the Mediterranean coast and flew to Sharm el-Sheikh, officials said.
He then flew to the rival resort of Hurghada, on the African shore of the Red Sea, to reassure tourists during a walk-about and to make sure that security was tight.
The attacks had an immediate impact on tourism as European travellers cancelled trips to the popular destination.