An explosion tore through a bus filled with South Korean sightseers in the Sinai Peninsula on Sunday, killing at least four people and raising fears that Islamic terrorists have renewed a bloody campaign to wreck Egypt’s tourism industry.
The bombing near the tip of the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba was the first attack against tourists in Sinai in nearly a decade.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the blast bore the hallmarks of attacks blamed on the al-Qaida-linked terrorist groups that have been battling government forces in Sinai’s restive north for years.
At least three South Korean tourists were killed and 12 seriously wounded, according to Egyptian security officials. The Egyptian bus driver was also among the dead, the officials said.
“I am deeply saddened by the incident,” Tourism Minister Hesham Zazou told state media. The Egyptian presidency called the attack a “despicable act of
cowardice” and vowed to bring the culprits to justice.
Egypt’s vital tourism sector, which normally accounts for about 11 percent of the economy and 20 percent of all foreign currency revenue, has been badly hit by the deadly turmoil that has roiled the country since the 2011 revolt that overthrew ruler Hosni Mubarak.
Sunday’s blast came as signs of a slow recovery in the industry were emerging, especially at Red Sea resorts in Sinai, such as Sharm el-Sheikh.
“The sad consequence for Egypt is that this takes the tourism industry and devastates it for years into the future,” said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Egyptian security officials said they believe the blast was caused by either a car bomb or a roadside bomb that was detonated by remote control.
Sunday’s bombing was the first attack against tourists in Sinai’s southern region since a period of bloodshed in 2004-06 that killed about 120 people. That included a bombing at a luxury hotel in Taba in 2004 that left 34 people dead, 11 of them Israelis.
The bus in Sunday’s attack had set out on a journey from Cairo and was about to enter Israel from the border town of Taba, officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Meanwhile on Sunday, lawyers for deposed Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and his co-defendants walked out of court to protest the soundproof glass cage in which the accused are held during proceedings.
It was the first hearing in a case in which Morsi and 35 others are charged with conspiring with foreign groups and undermining national security.
The judge ordered Egypt’s lawyers union to appoint 10 members to represent the defendants. The trial was adjourned until Feb. 23.
The soundproof cage was introduced after Morsi and his co-defendants interrupted other court cases by talking over the judge and chanting slogans.
The cage is fitted to give the judge sole control over whether the defendants can be heard.
In a separate development, the office of Egypt’s former chief of staff, Sami Annan, announced Sunday that the retired general will run for president in elections scheduled for April.
The decision apparently pits Annan against Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the general who led the military takeover that ousted Morsi. El-Sissi is widely expected to announce his candidacy and is heavily favored to win.
Egypt Refuses Entry to Israeli Ambulances
Egypt refused to allow Israeli Magen David Adom ambulances and emergency teams to enter its territory, even though some of the victims had reportedly still not been treated several hours after the attack, according to Arutz Sheva.
“MDA is prepared to grant any assistance required to the victims of the attack, and we are preparing to take in the casualties at the Taba terminal,” a spokesman said. “MDA continues to be in touch with the Foreign Ministry, IDF, Red Cross officials in Israel and Geneva and other relevant parties, in order to treat the injured to the extent that this is required.”
The Taba terminal was reopened to Israeli tourists who are in Sinai and wish to return to Israel.
According to the Egyptian Interior Ministry, the bus was only about 50 yards meters from the Israeli border when the attack occurred. It was minutes before the passengers were due to leave the vehicle and cross into Israel on foot, via the Taba terminal.