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Monday, October 11, 2004

Egypt hotel bombers 'aided by woman suicide backpacker'

A female suicide bomber is believed to have taken part in the terrorist attack on the Red Sea hotel in which at least 31 people died, Israeli and Egyptian military officials said last night.

The woman, whose decapitated body was found at the back of the hotel, is thought to have been acting with two other suspected terrorists who rammed explosive-laden cars into the front of the Hilton hotel in the Sinai resort of Taba on Thursday night.

Gilad Shemesh, an Israeli army officer at the scene, told The Sunday Telegraph: "Our soldiers were shown a body by the Egyptians. It was a woman. Her head had been blown off.

"They said they were convinced she was a suicide bomber who had probably carried the explosives in a backpack."

An Israeli army captain with almost 20 years' experience of dealing with terrorist attacks pointed to the spot near the hotel's pool where the woman's body was found, along with several victims.

"It is impossible that those victims could have been killed by the two car-bomb blasts at the front of the hotel," he said. "It is clear to me that it was a suicide bomber - but the Egyptians don't want to talk about it officially."

Israeli and Egyptian officials are investigating who was behind the attack and a simultaneous strike on the Moon Island Village campsite at Ras a Satan, 30 miles to the south, which killed two Israeli tourists in their 20s.

On Friday, Maj Gen Aharon Ze'evi, Israel's military intelligence director, said al-Qaeda was the likely perpetrator. However, the terrorist organisation is not known to use women in its suicide operations. Palestinian terror groups, including Hamas, have recently started using female suicide bombers.

Egyptian police said that they had arrested "dozens" of Bedouin men suspected of helping to supply explosives to the bombers. Officers believe the attackers had originally planned to bomb three hotels but did not reach all of their targets.

Israeli officials said yesterday that they had received four pieces of information about possible terror attacks on the Sinai peninsula before the bombings. Three were linked to militant Palestinian groups and one to a global Islamic group.

Avi Dichter, the head of Israel's Shin Bet security service, who visited the hotel with Egyptian officials yesterday, criticised Israeli political leaders for not acting firmly enough on the information.