Fri, Jun 12, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Egyptian police foil suicide attack at Luxor temple

TOURISM WORRY:American Security Project think tank member Zack Gold said that attacks at tourism spots ‘are likely to worry the international community’

AFP, CAIRO

Egyptian security officials stand guard as tourists visit the ruins of the Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt, on Wednesday.

Photo: AP

Police said they averted a “massacre” after foiling a suicide bombing and gun attack on Wednesday at one of Egypt’s most popular ancient attractions.

Egypt has been shaken by several attacks claimed by Muslim militants since the Egyptian army toppled the democratically elected government two years ago, but the incident in the southern city of Luxor was a rare assault targeting holidaymakers in a country that depends on tourism for more than a 10th of its GDP.

Police said two attackers died and another was seriously wounded near the Karnak temple in Luxor, a popular site close to the famed Valley of the Kings.

No tourists were hurt in the mid-morning incident and visitors were kept inside Karnak’s ruins, an Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities official said.

The incident unfolded after a taxi carrying two passengers attempted to enter the parking lot and was stopped by a policeman, Egyptian Minister of Tourism Khaled Ramy said in a statement.

Police asked to search the trunk, where they found two large bags that made them suspicious, a Luxor police general told reporters.

When asked to open the bags, one of the men jumped out of the car, ran away and detonated his explosives-rigged vest.

In the ensuing confusion, the other passenger emerged from the car and, joined by an accomplice who had come in on foot, pulled assault rifles from the bags and started shooting.

The police responded, killing one and seriously wounding the other.

Egyptian Ministry of Health official Nahed Mohamed told reporters that two civilians and two policemen were wounded in the shootout, but not seriously.

Police said the taxi driver was not a suspect.

“If they had managed to enter the temple, it would have been a massacre,” said the police general, as 19 fully loaded rifle magazines were found in the bags and there were 604 tourists were in the temple at the time of the incident.

“We have enhanced security measures in place at all our sites and we continue to take every possible measure to ensure that no harm comes to anyone visiting Egypt,” Ramy said.

No group had yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mathieu Guidere, professor of Arab geopolitics at France’s University of Toulouse, said the incident indicated a change in strategy in militants choosing targets.

The aim is “to weaken the Egyptian economy by destroying the tourism industry” and to have “the maximum media impact,” as attacks on local targets were not drawing international attention, he said.

Zack Gold of the American Security Project think tank said that “such events are likely to worry the international community at a time that tourists are starting to return to places like Cairo and Luxor.”

Karnak in central Luxor was built on the ruins of Thebes, the capital of ancient Egypt. The huge temple lies in the heart of a vast complex of religious buildings in the city, which is 700km south of Cairo.

Tourism in Egypt has faltered since early 2011, when a popular uprising toppled former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak after three decades in power.

Years of instability scared off visitors from overseas, damaging the economy and sending Egypt’s foreign-currency reserves plunging.

However, the sector was showing signs of recovery.

Tourism income last year rose 20 percent from a year earlier as 10 million tourists visited Egypt, bringing with them US$7.5 billion in revenues.

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