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Investigations Begin After Deadly Explosion in Egyptian Tourist Area

General view of building with shattered glass and blood stain believed to be from victim is seen Friday
Investigations are under way after an explosion Thursday in a crowded tourist neighborhood in Egypt's capital. At least three people have died and 18 were wounded. A previously unknown Islamist group has claimed responsibility for the blast.

The bomb went off in a narrow street on the edge of the Khan Khalili, an ancient market that is a major tourist destination. Egyptian investigators believe it was a crude homemade nail bomb.

The injured included nine Egyptians, four French, three Americans, an Italian, and a Turk. Several of them have already been discharged or transferred to other facilities, while at least one remains in critical condition.

The three fatalities include a French woman, an American citizen, and an unidentified person that Egyptian authorities believe may have been the attacker. The Middle East News Agency identified the American as an 18-year-old man.

The U.S. embassy has warned American citizens to avoid areas where tourists congregate. Other embassies have urged caution. An increase in Egyptian security presence at tourist destinations is expected.

Tourism is a key component of Egypt's economy, and has been targeted by Islamists before as a way of undermining the government. The most infamous attack on tourists here was the 1997 Luxor attack, in which Islamic militants killed over 58 foreign visitors. Since then, until the bombing of several resorts in Sinai last summer, there had been almost a decade of calm.

The unknown group, calling itself the Islamic Brigades of Pride, claimed responsibility for the bombing by posting a statement on a website.

Dia Rashwan, an expert on terrorism at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, spoke to VOA minutes after visiting the site of the explosion. He says he agrees with Egyptian officials who say all clues indicate the attack is the work of an individual or a small unorganized group. "What I saw now confirms my impression that this is a very amateur act. There are no traces of a real group or any kind of organization," he said.

Mr. Rashwan is skeptical of the Internet statement by the so-called Islamic Brigades of Pride. He believes Egypt's Islamist movements have been crushed by the government or have renounced violence. He says the attack is the result of popular anti-Western sentiment.

"After the American invasion of Iraq, it's not the first time to see people attacking foreigners, in the Middle East and the Gulf. It happened many times in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, other places, Qatar. We are in a general state of, first, anti-Americanism, second, anti-Westernism in general," he said.

Mr. Rashwan and other observers worry that the attack will be used as an excuse to clamp down on growing political demonstrations in the country and to prolong its repressive state of emergency laws.