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EGYPT: Cairo bomb witness recalls terrifying scene

February 23, 2009 |  7:23 am


About 33 feet separated Amr Hassan, a theater director, from death in Sunday’s bombing in old Cairo -- the capital's first deadly terrorist attack in three years.

“I had a rehearsal right behind al Hussein mosque," Hassan said in an interview today. "I was waiting for the executive director in front of the mosque so we could go together to rehearsal. I was standing [about 33 feet] away from the blast.

“The minute the bomb exploded, we heard a terrifying noise and a blue oracle covered the place. A minute earlier, I saw a beggar. ... The beggar was terribly injured and he had definitely died. I saw his body thrown [about 13 feet] into the air. Everybody rushed; tourists were terrified, they were running in all directions. Victims were lying on the ground with injuries to faces and legs. 

"The police were watching a football game on TV at coffee shops when the explosion happened. The timing must have been well calculated [by the perpetrators]; the police were very relaxed ahead of the bombing." 

The bombing that rocked the Khan el Khalili bazaar, one of Cairo’s most famous tourist sites, left one French woman killed and 24 injured, according to Egyptian health ministry officials. Three suspects have reportedly been arrested. No group has claimed responsibility.

There were conflicting reports on the reason behind the explosion. Some reports claimed that a bomb was thrown from the top of a building while others said that the explosion occurred when a bomb hidden beneath a stone bench was detonated. Hassan found the latter account more conceivable; however, he believed the death toll was higher.

“I don’t think the bomb was thrown from the top because we would have noticed it before it hit the ground," he said. "I don’t think there was only one killed. ... The beggar’s body was lying right next to the French woman who was killed. I saw the police telling the rescuers to remove the woman’s body first. We as Egyptians are always left behind; were not they both victims? Why would the police remove the body of one and wait on the other?" 

-- Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo: Egyptian security personnel use a metal detector to search the tourist area of Khan el Khalili in Cairo. Credit: Agence France-Presse