A rapid series of car bombs and another blast ripped through a luxury hotel and a coffee shop in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik early Saturday, killing at least 83, police said. Terrified European and Arab tourists fled into the night, and rescue workers said the death toll was likely to rise.
The attack, Egypt's deadliest terror attack ever, appeared well coordinated. Two car bombs, possibly by suicide attackers, went off simultaneously at 1:15 a.m. a little more than 2 miles apart. A third bomb, believed hidden in a sack, detonated around the same time near a beachside walkway where tourists often stroll at night.
Carol Flowers, a local hotel manager, told CBS News Correspondent Lou Miliano that the scene on the ground was horrific. Miliano reports that one witness heard as many as two dozen explosions.
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 being taken. Rescuers were still searching the attack scenes.
Several hours later, a group citing ties to al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the explosion on an Islamic web site. The group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, al Qaeda, in Syria and Egypt, was one of two extremist groups that also claimed responsibility for October bombings at the Egyptian resorts of Taba and Ras Shitan that killed 34. The group also claimed responsibility for a Cairo bombing in late April.
The authenticity of the statement could not be immediately verified.
But a top Egyptian official said there are some indications the latest bombings were linked to last fall's Taba explosions.
"We have some clues, especially about the car that was exploded in the Old Market, and investigators are pursuing," said Interior Minister Habib al-Adli. He called it "an ugly act of terrorism."
The United States, Israel and European and Middle Eastern countries condemned the attacks, and neighboring Jordan said it was immediately tightening security at its tourist sites.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak flew into Sharm el-Sheik and went directly to inspect the scene at the Ghazala hotel. Heavily armed security forces guarded Mubarak as he walked past the bomb-ravaged complex and spoke with officials.
At least eight foreigners were among the dead, Al-Adli said. The dead included British, Dutch, Kuwaitis, Saudis and Qataris, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was giving information not yet included in the official statement.
"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 death toll could rise, rescue workers said. The lobby of the 176-room Ghazala Gardens hotel in Sharm's Naamah Bay, the main strip of hotels, collapsed into a pancaked pile of concrete.
David Stewart, a tourist from Liverpool, England, was staying with his wife and two teen-aged daughters at the Ghazala Gardens when the explosion hit. The windows of his room were smashed, and he and his family ran.
"Somebody shouted, 'Keep moving,"' he told AP. "The lights were out. I couldn't tell what was happening."
His family, like many others, fled toward the back of the hotel to take refuge in a grassy lawn near the pool. There, hundreds spent the night, some lying on pool mattresses.
On the other side of Sharm in the Old Market, a second car bomb in a minibus parking lot sent a ball of flaming wreckage shooting over a nearby beach and into the sea and littered the sand with body parts. Overturned chairs, broken water pipes and pools of blood were scattered around the ravaged coffee shop nearby, frequented by Egyptians who work in the resorts.
"The country's going to come to a stop. That's it!" sobbed Samir al-Mitwalli, who arrived in Sharm only a month ago to work as a driver. "Who's paying the price? Whoever did this wants to destroy the economy."
The string of attacks stunned a town that has long been dedicated to scuba diving at the famed coral reefs.
Sharm el-Sheik has expanded at a furious pace in recent years, making it a major player in Egypt's vital tourism industry, drawing Europeans, Israelis and Arabs from oil-producing Gulf nations. Mubarak has a residence where he spends the winter, and the town has been the host to multiple summits for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The attacks last fall in Taba ended a long halt in Egyptian militant violence. The last major attack had been in 1997, when Islamic militants killed 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians at the Pharaonic Temple of Hatshepsut outside Luxor in southern Egypt.
There were signs that the bombings were by suicide attackers. Witnesses at the coffee shop reported the attack vehicle was moving when it blew up, and the governor of South Sinai, Mustafa Afifi, said the car in the Ghazala attack broke through security into the front driveway before exploding.
A senior U.S. official traveling with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said there were no reports of American casualties.
The Ghazala blast swept through the interior of the sprawling, low-built hotel, shattering windows and shredding metal. Blood splattered some of the walls.
The blast at Old Market tore through a coffee shop on the side of a minibus lot, killing at least 17 Egyptians who were sitting there, said a security official in the operations control room in Cairo.
More than eight hours later, the overturned shell of a minibus was still smoldering, near a large crater in the asphalt.
"This flaming mass flew over my head, faster than a torpedo, and plunged into the water," said Mursi Gaber, who at the time of the blast was putting up decorations on a nearby beach. "There were body parts all over the steps down to the beach."