ISMAILIYA, Egypt: Terror attacks at several Sinai tourist resorts in the past two years were carried out by a militant group calling itself Tawhid and Jihad, a name used by Al-Qaeda associates elsewhere, Egyptian prosecutors said Sunday.
The government has said the militants who carried out the suicide bombings were locals without international connections, though Israeli security officials have said they suspect an Al-Qaeda hand in the attacks.
The name, announced for the first time at the trial of militants suspected in the bombings, could suggest the group had sympathies with Al-Qaeda, if not operational links.
Tawhid and Jihad, Arabic for Monotheism and Holy War, was the name used by the group led by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the most notorious militant leader in Iraq. His group is now named Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Other groups sympathetic to Al-Qaeda ideology have used tawhid in their names.
Prosecutors introduced the name in court Sunday in the trial of militants accused in October 2004 bombings of the resorts of Taba and Ras Shitan, near the Israeli border, that killed 34 people. The prosecutors said the same group was involved in a July 23 suicide attack in the resort of Sharm El-Sheik, which killed at least 64 people.
The accused formed a terrorist organization … which carried out the explosions, declared Egypt s leaders infidels and targeted foreign tourists and police, prosecution lawyer Hisham Badawi told the court.
He did not say if the group was believed to have links to Al-Qaeda.
The announcement came as the prosecution dramatically reshuffled its case in the trial, which has been going on since July 2. Until now, the case has had only two Defendants; Mohammed Gayez Sabbah and Mohammed Abdullah Rabaa, who pleaded innocent to involvement in the Taba attack.
But on Sunday, prosecutors added 13 more defendants, saying they were all members of the group and were arrested after Sharm bombings. The 13 were present in the defendants cage at the state security court in Ismailiya, 120 km east of Cairo.
One of the defendants, Younis Mohammed Mahmoud Elian, 25, told the judge he and his co-defendants were subjected to severe torture to extract confessions. The trial was adjourned until May 27, and the judge ordered the defendants examined for signs of torture.
The bombings prompted massive security sweeps in the Sinai Peninsula in which thousands were reportedly arrested, including relatives of suspects held to try to force the fugitives to surrender. Some of those subsequently released have complained of torture.
Security officials have not given a cohesive account of how and why the resort attacks were planned, generating confusion over the government s crackdown in the Sinai. Several suspects said to be key leaders have been killed in clashes with police.
When Sabbah and Rabaa were first brought to trial, prosecutors said the perpetrators of the Taba attack did not belong to a terror group but were reacting to Israel s policies with the Palestinians. But when the Sharm attacks occurred, security forces began talking of a wider Islamic militant group, though they denied any Al-Qaeda ties.
A statement signed by a group calling itself Egyptian Tawhid and Jihad claimed responsibility for the Sharm bombing, saying it acted on orders from Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. But it was one of several conflicting claims by different groups at the time.
Diaa Rashwan, an Egyptian expert on Islamic militants, said the confusion in the case makes it hard to judge whether the group s name denotes any Al-Qaeda ties.
The prosecution all along has been decisively denying that the defendants belonged to Al-Qaeda or any external group. They don t tell us where all these charges and new developments come from, he said. AP