Egypt Bazaar Blast: Motorcycles as a Threat

3 MINS READApr 8, 2005 | 21:46 GMT
A powerful blast ripped through the Khan al-Khalili bazaar in Cairo, Egypt, on April 7, killing three people — an American, a French citizen and possibly the bomber — and wounding at least 19. Although witness accounts as to the form of the attack vary, police report that the investigation is centering on a motorcycle found near the bazaar with nails scattered around it, suggesting the explosive was a homemade nail-packed bomb that detonated prematurely. Tourism Minister Ahmed El Maghraby reportedly said authorities have no information as to the perpetrators, though he did say that similar attacks in the past have been the act of one individual or a very small group of people. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's outlawed moderate Islamist group, meanwhile, denounced the attack. If the bomb does turn out to be an improvised explosive devise (IED) intended to be remotely detonated, however, Egyptian anti-terrorism authorities might be facing a terrorist cell. The use of a remotely detonated IED would indicate a certain level of sophistication and planning that would be inconsistent with a random, lone-wolf-type attack — as it would involve planners, at least one bombmaker and someone to carry out the attack. Small motorcycles and scooters are ubiquitous in many parts of the world, including Egypt, and often are seen with cargo boxes affixed to them for making deliveries. Those boxes would make an ideal place to transport a small IED — or to plant one in a parked motorcycle, as it is not uncommon to see motorcycles chained to signposts, utility poles and bike racks outside buildings all over the world. For those wanting to commit low-level terrorist acts, motorcycles are cheap and convenient delivery platforms for small bomb or drive-by shootings. Motorcycles, which are perfect for maneuvering through congested traffic, provide an excellent means of reaching a target — and of making a quick escape. Moreover, by wearing full-face helmets, motorcycle-riding terrorists can conceal their faces without attracting attention. Motorcycles and scooters long have been used to stage attacks — in Greece and the Philippines against U.S. military personnel and in Colombia by drug cartels and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, for example. More recently, militants have used bombs hidden on motorcycles in Baghdad, Moscow and southern Thailand. In December 2001, authorities in Singapore arrested al Qaeda operatives in the process of planning bombing attacks — using parked motorcycles — against U.S. military personnel passing through the Yishun mass transit station. U.S. troops in Afghanistan uncovered the plot when they found a videotape indicating potential targets and locations for planting the bombs, which had been sent to senior al Qaeda leaders from Singapore. In cities packed with motorcycles, few effective measures can be implemented to counter an attack staged from such a ubiquitous, easily maneuverable vehicle. Keeping parking areas for motorcycles and scooters as far away as possible from high-value targets is perhaps the best step.

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