CAIRO, Egypt – A group that says it has ties to the Al Qaeda (search) terror network is claiming responsibility for the bombing of an Egyptian resort that killed at least 83 people.
The group, which calls itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigades (search) in Syria and Egypt, posted a statement to an Islamic Web site saying its "holy warriors targeted the Ghazala Gardens hotel and the Old Market in Sharm el-Sheikh (search)."
The authenticity of the statement could not be immediately verified.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak flew into Sharm el-Sheik and went directly to the scene at the Ghazala hotel. Heavily armed security forces guarded Mubarak as he walked past the bomb-ravaged complex and spoke with officials.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) released a statement denouncing the attack on the popular vacation destination.
"I condemn the horrific terrorist bombings in Sharm el Sheikh. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and innocent victims from many nations who suffered in this senseless attack," Rice said. "I have spoken with Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit. At this difficult time of testing, the United States stands with our friend and ally Egypt. Together we will confront and defeat this scourge that knows no boundaries and respects no creed."
Early Saturday morning, three car bombs ripped through the hotel and a coffee shop packed with European and Egyptian tourists. The blasts began at 1:15 a.m., shaking windows of buildings miles away. The explosions, which followed each other in quick succession, sent plumes of smoke rising above Naama Bay (search), a main strip of beach hotels in the desert city.
A total of 83 people had been confirmed dead, said Dr. Saeed Abdel Fattah, manager of the Sharm el-Sheik International Hospital where the victims were taken. Among the dead were two Britons, two Germans and an Italian, he added. Czech officials said one Czech tourist was also killed. Rescue workers were still searching for victims at some attack scenes.
Italy's foreign ministry said one of the victims, a 34-year-old Italian man identified as Sebastiano Conti, was killed and 10 other Italians injured.
"Terrorism has no nationality," Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazief told The Associated Press. "This is a terrorist act and ... can't be explained or justified."
The reception hall of the luxury Ghazala Gardens hotel collapsed into a pancaked pile of concrete, sending terrified guests fleeing for safety, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene. Rescue workers hours later said they feared more victims may be buried in the rubble.
Tourists stumbled about the darkened, charred streets as Egyptian rescuers searched for the dead and injured. Ambulances sped away with victims. Details on the explosions were sketchy, due to the hour they went off and Sharm's remote location.
"There seemed to be a lot of bodies strewn across the road" near one cafe, British policeman Chris Reynolds, visiting from Birmingham, England, told the BBC by telephone. "It was horrendous."
The Ghazala was "completely burned down, destroyed," Amal Mustafa, 28, an Egyptian who was visiting Sharm with her family, told The Associated Press after driving by the site. Television video of the hotel, a three-story complex, showed parts of the building burned out with walls collapsed.
Another car bomb exploded in the Old Market, an area a few miles away, killing 17 people — believed to be Egyptians — sitting at a outdoor coffee shop, the control room official said. Three minibuses were set ablaze. It was not clear if they were carrying passengers, the official said.
Another blast went off near the Movenpick Hotel, said a receptionist there who declined to identify himself.
Although many tourists could have been asleep when the explosions struck, the resort's sidewalk cafes, seafront restaurants and bazaars are usually packed with locals and tourists well into the late summer nights.
Mubarak has a residence at a resort several miles outside Naama Bay and spends weeks there at a time in the winter. But during the summer, he stays at a residence in the northern city of Alexandria.
A London police officer, Charlie Ives, who was on holiday, told BBC Television that he was in a cafe about 50 yards away from two of the explosions.
"It was mass hysteria really. We tried to calm people down," he said. "[The blast was so strong], we were virtually thrown from the cafe."
Another British tourist, Fabio Basone, was in Naama Bay's Hard Rock Cafe when he heard a small explosion, then a larger one.
"We went outside on to the street where we were met with hundreds of people running and screaming in all directions," he told BBC. "I saw the front of a hotel had been blown away. ... There were two bodies on the floor but I don't know if they were dead."
Scores of ambulances from cities in the northern Sinai and the Suez Canal cities of Suez and Ismailiya were headed to Sharm to help with casualties.
Khaled Sakran, a resident, said he saw one explosion from the Old Market.
"I saw the saw the fire in the sky," he told The Associated Press. "Right after, I saw a light in the sky and heard another explosion, coming from Naama Bay."
Kurtis Cooper, a State Department spokesman, said the United States condemned the attacks and offered assistance to the Egyptian government.
"There can be no excuse for the targeting of innocent civilians," Cooper said.
Pope Benedict XVI deplored the attacks, calling them "senseless acts," and appealed to terrorists to renounce violence.
Thousands of tourists are drawn to Sharm for its sun, clear blue water and coral reefs. It also has been a meeting place where world leaders have tried to hammer out a Mideast peace agreement. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas met there in February and agreed to a cease-fire.
Egypt has been the site of several deadly attacks on places frequented by tourists. In October 2004, a series of explosions hit several hotels in the Sinai resorts of Taba and Ras Shitan, about 100 miles northwest along the Gulf of Aqaba coast, killing 34 people. Egyptian authorities said that attack was linked to Israeli-Palestinian violence, prompting a wave of arrests in Sinai.
Saturday's bombings were the deadliest since 1997, when Islamic militants killed 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians at the Pharaonic Temple of Hatshepsut outside Luxor in southern Egypt.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.