A bomb attack at a popular Cairo bazaar comes as concerns over the economy and Iran are running high in Egypt
Two explosions occurred around 6:30 p.m. local time Feb. 22 in Khan al-Khalili, a popular bazaar in Cairo that is frequented by foreign tourists. According to Egyptian Health Minister Hatem el-Gabali, one French woman was killed and 17 people were wounded, including 10 French tourists, one German and three Saudis. An Egyptian security source told STRATFOR that two rudimentary explosive devices detonated. One was thrown from a motorcycle near the entrance to the Khan al-Khalili market, which is located near the Al Hussein mosque, and the other was thrown at a group of French tourists from the window of a one-star hotel in the market. Though the explosive devices were described by the source as small and crudely constructed, they likely included shrapnel, such as nails, meant to inflict higher casualties. Egyptian security forces are still trying to track down the perpetrators; one man and one woman reportedly have been detained. This attack was likely conducted by one of the small militant cells that have split off from the main Islamist groups operating in Egypt that try to model themselves after al Qaeda. In 2006, one of Egypt’s most prominent militant groups, Gamaah al Islamiyah (GAI), pledged allegiance to al Qaeda in a 2006 video, but was never able to follow through with its threats to carry out attacks. Egyptian security forces have had a great deal of success in cracking down on GAI and other groups, such as Tawhid wa al-Jihad, a group of Bedouins believed to be responsible for a spate of large-scale attacks against tourist resorts in Sharm al Sheikh in 2005-2006. The traditional groups such as GAI and Tandheem al Jihad have renounced violence and tried to enter the political stream, as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood did, or have been far too splintered to operate effectively in the country. An Egyptian security source believes this latest attack at Khan al-Khalili is the work of one of the smaller, copycat groups. In April 2005, a suicide bomber killed two French citizens and an American and wounded 18 others in an attack in the Khan al-Khalili market. The Feb. 22 attack at Khan al-Khalili took place on a Sunday, when the market is closed and less busy. Though this attack likely is not connected to a large, organized insurgent network in the country, its effect is still significant. Egypt is already suffering a severe economic slump thanks to the global financial crisis. An attack against tourists at Khan al-Khalili at the start of the tourist season will only exacerbate Egypt’s economic pains. The attack also comes at a time when Iran, using its militant proxies in Hezbollah, appears to have stepped up covert activity in Egypt. An Egyptian security source told STRATFOR that Egyptian authorities recently uncovered a group of militants from Lebanon in the northern Egyptian port of al-Arish who were smuggling weapons into the country. Last week, STRATFOR also came across information, which could not be verified, of Hezbollah sending military hardware to Islamist militant groups in Egypt. According to a source in Hezbollah, the group has had increasing difficulty in sending arms to Hamas in the Gaza Strip in the wake of Israel’s recent offensive in the territory. The source said that Hezbollah, on instructions from Iran, has been sending the arms to groups in Egypt instead as a way to "punish" the Egyptian government and bolster militant groups in the region. Most of the military hardware reportedly arrives at the northern Egyptian coast near the Port Said and Port Fuad areas; Hezbollah smugglers travel by boat between the Egyptian coast and the seaport of Tyre in southern Lebanon. Claims of Iranian support for militants in Egypt might be exaggerated, but this support does appear to be part of a growing trend of tension building between Tehran and Cairo, as the latter has become increasingly concerned over Iran’s heavy infiltration in the Palestinian Territories. Egypt has recently become more public in its criticism of Iran, and for good reason — the Egyptians are fearful that Iran’s growing support for various militant proxies in the Palestinian Territories and in Egypt will revive the Egyptian Islamist militancy that has been relatively dormant in recent years, especially as a number of battle-hardened jihadists are being edged out of Iraq and returning home without jobs. Egypt's concerns are shared by Saudi Arabia, and they will only grow as the United States and Iran try to revive a diplomatic dialogue that would risk undermining the Sunni Arab regimes and bolstering Iran's position in the region.