TABA, Egypt – A Bedouin (search) tribesman has confessed to selling explosives that might have been used in three deadly car bombings targeting Israeli tourists, and investigators were looking into possible Palestinian militant involvement, Egyptian security officials said Sunday.
The tribesman said the buyers, whom he could not identify, told him the explosives would be used in the Palestinian territories, an Egyptian investigator told The Associated Press.
"The explosives were sold on the assumption that they were going to the Palestinians," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Egyptians reportedly have asked Israel to provide information about specific Palestinians who recently entered their country.
Three car bombs, each packed with 440 pounds of explosives, exploded Thursday night — one at the Taba (search) Hilton just south of the Egypt-Israel border and two at a Red Sea town of beach bungalows, Ras Shitan (search), 35 miles to the south.
Israeli Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh, head of the Israeli army home front command, said in addition to the Isuzu pickup truck that exploded at the Taba hotel, a suicide bomber inside detonated another bomb.
"To our relief, the bomber who entered the hotel did not enter the hotel restaurants, something which would have brought down at least half the hotel," Naveh said.
Egypt (search) has put the death toll at 34. Naveh, speaking in Taba, said at least 32 bodies had been found, plus body parts that may include the remains of others. The dead included Egyptians, Israelis, Italians, a Russian woman and others from the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe.
Israeli rescue officials said 12 Israelis have been positively identified among the dead and a few more Israelis were still unaccounted for. It was not immediately clear whether more Egyptians or other nationals were still missing.
Egyptian security officials said some of dozens of Bedouins detained for questioning after the car bombings in Taba and Ras Shitan have been cooperating with authorities and have provided valuable information about explosives.
Sinai is inhabited by about 10 semi-nomadic Bedouin tribes, whose population is estimated at about 4,000. Many tribesmen are known for their knowledge of Sinai's vast deserts and mountain ranges, while police accuse some of smuggling weapons, drugs and people across Egypt's border with Israel and Gaza.
Israeli officials have complained in the past of weapons and explosives being smuggled into the Gaza Strip from Sinai which borders the Palestinian territory. The Israelis maintain they come through tunnels beneath the Egypt-Gaza border.
Palestinian and Egyptian officials also told the AP that Egyptian security and intelligence officers have been discussing the attacks with officials from the Palestinian factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
The Egyptians were seeking information about members of the groups upset about Egypt's plan to help secure the Gaza Strip if Israel withdraws. Egypt has come under fire from some Arabs for allegedly aiding Israel; Egypt maintains it needs to ensure stability along its border in the event of a security vacuum left by Israel's departure.
The officials said Egypt is not suggesting the two factions were behind the attacks, but rather are probing the possibility that disgruntled defectors from the groups might have been involved.
These discussions were taking place in Gaza and in some Middle East capitals, one official said without specifying which ones.
On Saturday, Egyptian investigators said they suspected a group of eight to 10 terrorists carried out the attacks, possibly slipping in from Saudi Arabia or Jordan on speed boats.
Israel has blamed Al Qaeda for the attacks and the United States has said it suspects an Al Qaeda role.
The Egyptian investigators also were leaning toward an Al Qaeda connection, saying a local sleeper cell may have been awakened to carry out the attacks, the first major terrorist strike in Egypt in seven years.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said such a group would almost certainly be linked to Ayman al-Zawahri, who led the Egyptian Islamic Jihad before merging his group with Al Qaeda in 1998. The Egyptian-born Zawahri is now bin Laden's top deputy.
On Sunday night, one of three previously unknown groups that claimed responsibility for the bombings posted an Internet statement saying it was solely responsible and warning of more attacks against "the despotic government in Egypt" and against the Israeli embassies in Egypt and Jordan.
There was no way of verifying the claim by the Brigades of the Martyr Abdullah Azzam, which said it was affiliated with Al Qaeda.
Israeli rescue crews, meanwhile, finished their work at the shattered Taba Hilton and went home Sunday evening, leaving Egyptian civil defense officers to clear the rubble with axes and sledgehammers under generator-powered floodlights.
As the Israeli rescuers crossed back into nearby Eilat from Taba, they held a memorial service for the victims.
The head of the rescue team, Yitzhak Hillel, said the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, and army rabbi Lt. Col. Shimon Elmaliah chanted a memorial prayer, inserting the words "all those who were killed in the terror attack by despicable murderers" in the spot where one would normally put the name of the deceased.
At the site of the attack in Taba, Denise Pomero of Italy, whose daughters, Jessica Rinaudo, 28, and Sabrina Rinaudo, 29, died at the hotel, placed a basket of pink and white flowers at the edge of a dusty hole to the basement shopping concourse.
Their father, Luigi, cried as he looked over the scene.
Israel's government last month warned citizens not to travel to the Sinai, citing a "concrete" terror threat, but thousands of tourists ignored the warning.
Officials said Sunday that Israel at the time also contacted Egypt, saying it suspected a Palestinian group might infiltrate the area and shoot Israeli tourists in Taba.