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Two die in explosion at bazaar in Cairo

Blast believed set off by bomber on motorcycle

CAIRO -- An explosion apparently set off by a bomber on a motorcycle hit a tour group shopping in a historic bazaar yesterday, killing at least two people and wounding 18. It was the first attack targeting foreign tourists in the Egyptian capital in more than seven years.

The dead included a French woman. Four Americans were among the 18 wounded, the Interior Ministry said. Brigadier General Nabil al-Azabi, head of security in Cairo, said the second person killed may have been the bomber.

Many of the wounded had severe injuries from nails packed in the bomb, doctors said. The US Embassy in Cairo warned Americans to stay away from Khan al-Khalili, the sprawling bazaar area, and to use prudence elsewhere in the city, said embassy spokesman James L. Bullock. He would not confirm American casualties in the blast.

Egypt has seen a long period of calm since it suppressed Islamic militants who in the 1990s carried out bombings and shootings against tourists in their campaign to bring down the government. The last significant attack on tourists in Cairo was in 1997.

At least two witnesses said a man on a motorcycle appeared to have set off a bomb near a tour group in the al-Moski bazaar, a maze of narrow alleys with shops selling jewelry, souvenirs, and clothes connected to Khan al-Khalili.

Hours later, the site was littered with glass, metal fragments, and body parts, as forensic specialists and investigators searched for evidence. Officials warned that the number of dead could rise.

The witnesses were not clear whether the man on the motorcycle was a suicide bomber or threw an explosive.

Police said two people were taken in for questioning and police were investigating a motorcycle found nearby with nails scattered around it. They would not confirm if the blast was from a bomb.

Rabab Rifaat, an Egyptian woman who was shopping in a store several yards from the blast, said she heard ''a boom, a horrible sound, very loud. Everyone started running."

She said she then saw a head flying through the air.

A large, organized tour group was in the market when the explosion went off, Rifaat said. Six or seven people lay on the ground afterward, some of them foreign-looking, and an Egyptian man ran with burns on his back and his clothes torn, Rifaat said.

French Embassy spokeswoman Bernadette Abou Bechara said that a French woman, a tourist, was killed.

Hundreds of riot police sealed off the area, although tourists remained in Khan al-Khalili, several hundred yards outside the police cordon. Three officials from the US Embassy arrived about three hours after the explosion and tried to make their way through the police cordon.

A heavy police presence also surrounded al-Husseini University Hospital, where many of the wounded were taken. An elderly Egyptian woman sobbed as she tried to push her way into the hospital to see a 15-year-old granddaughter she believed had been wounded.

The Khan is the most famous of a number of closely packed bazaars near al-Azhar, one of the most prestigious Islamic institutions in the Sunni Muslim world, in Cairo's old city.

Tourism, Egypt's highest earner of foreign exchange, was targeted by Islamic extremists in the 1990s.

In September 1997, two gunmen fired on a tour bus outside the Egyptian Museum in central Cairo, killing 10 people, most of whom were German tourists. Two months later, militants killed 58 tourists and four Egyptians in an attack at a pharaonic temple in Luxor, southern Egypt.

Last October, explosions hit several hotels in the Sinai Peninsula, including one in the resort of Taba, killing 34 people. Egyptian authorities say that attack was linked to Israeli-Palestinian violence.

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