December - 1997
Vol# 13 - Issue# 11
Terrorists Attack Luxor Tourist Site
Suspected Islamists brought carnage to the temples of Luxor in November, killing at least 57 tourists and four Egyptians in their deadliest attack in Egypt so far. According to police officials six men in police uniforms ran amok near the cliff-side Hatshepsut temple in the Valley of the Kings, where the tomb of boy-king Tutankhamun is located, shooting at foreigners. Prosecutors said 57 bodies of foreigners were identified, including Swiss, German and Japanese nationals. The interior ministry said two policemen and an Egyptian guide had been killed, along with all six attackers. Officials said 24 people were wounded, among them 16 foreigners.
The Swiss Foreign Ministry said it thought as many as 20 Swiss nationals were among the tourists to die and the British Foreign Office in London said it had received reports from its Luxor consul that two Britons were killed.
The attack bore the hallmarks of Muslim militants who have often targeted tourists since they took up arms in 1992 to topple the government and set up a purist Islamic state. Egyptian Tourism Minister Mamdouh el-Beltagi told reporters at a London travel fair he felt ''shock and sorrow'' at ''this cowards' crime committed against our guests and Egyptians as well.'' He said the government was doing all it could to protect tourists, but added that it was too early to predict the impact on Egypt's $3 billion-a-year tourism industry.
Abdel-Rahman, spiritual leader of Egypt's biggest militant groupal-Gama'a al-Islamiya (Islamic Group), is a blind sheikh serving a life sentence in the United States for plotting to blow up the World Trade Center and other New York landmarks.
President Hosni MurbarakPresident Hosni Mubarak sent key ministers to the scene and called an emergency cabinet meeting. He ordered Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri to supervise inquiries and report back to him. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said he was horrified, voicing sympathy with the Egyptian government ''with whom we stand together in condemning this sickening act of violence.'' German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel denounced what he called ''this repulsive act of violence by misguided fanatics.''
The attack coincided with the start in Cairo of a military trial of 66 suspected militants accused of plotting to kill state officials and belonging to the Gama'a.
Militants who have strongholds in other parts of southern Egypt had previously spared the sprawling tombs and temples of Luxor, about 310 miles south of Cairo,.
Tourist police said the gunmen had boarded a bus, killing Japanese tourists and shooting dead two policemen who had fired at them. They then hijacked a second bus and killed its French, Swiss and German passengers. They drove it for about one mile before abandoning it and running into nearby hills.
Egyptian witnesses said police had taken a long time to arrive after the shooting began, adding that they believed the gunmen had killed themselves in the mountains.
The U.S. embassy warned Americans not to go to southern Egypt ''until the security situation is clarified and further notice is provided.'' A spokesman said security and consular officials had been sent to Luxor to help in the aftermath of the attack. ''We are not aware of any American casualties,'' he added. Britain also advised its nationals to stay away from Luxor and one tour operator in Britain said it was flying seven groups of Britons and Americans home early from Egypt. Officials said a curfew had been imposed on Luxor, visited by about two million tourists a year. Last month Egypt threw a heavy security cordon around the town and Hatshepsut temple for a glittering performance of Verdi's opera Aida. The 4,500-year-old temple, partly carved into a limestone cliff, is one of ancient Egypt's finest monuments.
In September two brothers fired by Islamist fervour shot and petrol-bombed a tour bus in central Cairo, killing nine German tourists and an Egyptian driver. The confessed killers were caught, tried and senten