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Egypt arrests five for attacks on tourist sites that killed 34

CAIRO, Egypt — A Palestinian angered by Israeli-Palestinian violence plotted and then died in the nearly simultaneous car bombings of a Sinai hotel and tourist camp that killed at least 34 people this month, the Egyptian government said Monday in announcing the arrests of five Egyptians.

Two other suspects remained at large, the Interior Ministry said.

The Taba Hilton was heavily damaged in the worst of the blasts. Two other car bombs exploded at bungalow campgrounds in nearby Ras Shitan, also in the Sinai Peninsula. The resorts were packed with Israeli tourists who had traveled to the Sinai during a Jewish holiday.

The government identified the mastermind of the attacks as Ayad Said Saleh, a Palestinian who had lived in the Sinai and who died in the Oct. 7 explosion at the hotel along with a fellow plotter, Egyptian Suleiman Ahmed Saleh Flayfil. The pair, identified through DNA testing, were trying to leave the scene but their timed explosives detonated prematurely, the statement said.

Two other suspects were said to be at large: Mohamed Ahmed Saleh Flayfil, brother of Suleiman Flayfil, and Hammad Gaman Gomah Tarabeen. Mohamed Flayfil was accused of carrying out the attack on one of the campgrounds and Gomah was accused of carrying out the third bombing.

Police had arrested five suspects who had lesser roles, including obtaining explosives and the cars used in the attacks, the ministry said. The statement did not say when the five were arrested or provide other details of their capture.

A senior Egyptian security officer told The Associated Press that Saleh had links with a Palestinian Islamic group in Gaza, but would not say which group. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Interior Ministry did not mention a broader conspiracy in the bombing. The al-Qaida terror network initially was suspected because it is known for the kind of secretive, sophisticated planning believed necessary to pull off an attack like the Sinai bombings.

The ministry said the three cars used in the bombings were stolen and the explosives were salvaged from the remains of fighting in the Sinai, which has been a World War II battlefield as well as an area fought over by Egyptians and Israelis. The car bombs, according to the statement, were built using spare parts from washing machines and other equipment.

The Interior Ministry said mastermind Saleh acted "in reaction to the deteriorating situation in the occupied territories to carry out an act targeting Israelis." The ministry accused Saleh of turning "to religious fanaticism" after a criminal past that included a rape conviction.

Egypt is believed to have largely squashed homegrown terrorism in a crackdown on militant groups in the 1980s and 1990s. There has not been a terror attack blamed on Egyptian Islamic militant groups such as Al-Gamaa al-Islamiya or Egyptian Islamic Jihad since the 1997 massacre of 58 foreign tourists at a pharaonic temple in the southern city of Luxor.

An offshoot of Egyptian Islamic Jihad is led by al-Qaida deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, an Egyptian doctor.

The Interior Ministry statement said the Egyptian suspects were residents of the Sinai, territory Israel had captured from Egypt in the 1967 Mideast war and returned in 1982 under terms of the first Israeli-Arab peace treaty. The statement said Saleh, the Palestinian, lived in the Sinai town of al-Arish.

Taba, a tiny parcel of land on the Red Sea shore next to the Israeli town of Eilat, was not initially returned to Egypt under the peace treaty. Israel claimed that the international border placed Taba inside Israel, but international arbitrators ruled against the claim, and Israel returned Taba to Egypt in 1989.

Thousands of Israelis regularly streamed into the Sinai across to visit Taba and gamble in the Hilton's casino.

Egypt has stood by the first Arab-Israeli peace treaty despite tense relations with Israel and opposition by many of its citizens, who identify with the Palestinians and question how an Arab government can pledge peace with Israel amid Israeli-Palestinian violence.