Egypt terror attack targets Christian pilgrims in Sinai

Bombing of bus threatens a return to campaign targeting foreign tourists at Red Sea resorts


People and security officials walk and look as smoke rises from a tourist bus in the Red Sea resort town of Taba in the south Sinai

Richard Spencer

By , Cairo

6:46PM GMT 16 Feb 2014

Four people including three believed to be South Korean Christian pilgrims were killed on Sunday by a bomb that tore through their bus near Egypt's border with Israel in the Sinai peninsula.

The bus was heading to the Taba border crossing after taking the pilgrims to visit St Catherine's Monastery, at the foot of Mount Sinai, when its front half was engulfed in an explosion.

The bombing, said by the authorities to be most likely the work of terrorist insurgents based in the Sinai, marked a dramatic shift in their current campaign against the Egyptian regime, which to date has targeted the military and police.

Tour companies including those that take thousands of British visitors to Egypt's Red Sea beaches every year will fear it heralds a return to previous bombing campaigns targeting them. In 2004, 31 people were killed when a bomb, one of three planted at the same time in the peninsula, exploded at the Taba Hilton Hotel less than a mile from the point of Sunday's attack.

Hundreds of police, soldiers, militants and civilians have been killed in recent months in northern Sinai, particularly since a major counter-insurgency offensive by the army began in September. But while the campaign, led by a militant Islamist group called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis or Supporters of Jerusalem, has moved to the mainland, the group's statements have said it targets the security forces.

Sunday's attack however was clearly aimed at tourists. The occupants of the bus were said to be of different nationalities, but the South Korean foreign ministry confirmed that at least two of its citizens were among the dead.

The South Sinai governor, Khaled Fouda, said a third Korean was killed, along with the bus driver, who was Egyptian. At least 13 people were injured.

Pictures from the scene in the aftermath showed flames shooting out of the brightly-painted yellow bus. The Israeli authorities sent rescue services to the border, which was otherwise closed immediately. It is a route many Israeli holiday-makers heading for the Sinai resorts take.

The authorities blame the upsurge in violence partly on the Muslim Brotherhood, which they now regularly denounce as a "terrorist organisation" despite its insistence that it is a peaceful and democratic organisation. It released a statement condemning the bombings, though its message was diluted by its referring to the victims as "Zionists" in one Arabic-language tweet.

"The Muslim Brotherhood strongly condemns in the strongest possible terms the cowardly attack on a tourist bus," its English-language statement, issued from its London office, said. It said the attack was further evidence of the negligence of the military, which overthrew the Brotherhood's President Mohammed Morsi in July, and which it describes as a "junta".

"It is sad to note that the military backed authorities have, once again, failed to uphold their duty of protection and care towards visitors and Egyptian citizens alike," it said.

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