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Egypt forces kill 40 militants in crackdown after bus attack

SAQQARA, Egypt: A tourist bus which was attacked is towed away from the scene in Giza province south of the capital Cairo on Friday. – AFP

GIZA, Egypt: Egyptian police killed 40 suspects in a crackdown yesterday after a roadside bomb hit a tour bus claiming the lives of three Vietnamese holidaymakers and an Egyptian guide. Thirty alleged “terrorists” were killed in separate raids in Giza governorate, home to Egypt’s famed pyramids and the scene of Friday’s deadly bombing, while 10 others were killed in the restive North Sinai, the interior ministry said without directly linking them to the attack.

It said authorities had received information the suspects were preparing a spate of attacks “targeting state institutions, particularly economic ones, as well as tourism, armed forces, police and Christian places of worship”. The ministry did not give any details about the suspects’ identity or whether there had been any casualties or injuries among the security forces. The statement said the three raids took place simultaneously. The ministry published photos of bloodied bodies with their faces concealed and assault rifles and shotguns lying on the floor beside them.

A security source said the raids took place early yesterday morning, hours after Friday evening’s roadside bombing which officials said hit a tour bus in the Al-Haram district near the Giza pyramids, killing the three Vietnamese holidaymakers and their Egyptian guide. Eleven other tourists from Vietnam and an Egyptian bus driver were wounded, the public prosecutor’s office said. Saigon Tourist, the company that organized the trip, said the tourists were “on their way to a restaurant for dinner” when the bomb exploded.

Company officials were heading to Cairo yesterday and plans were made to allow some relatives of the victims to also fly to Egypt. One of them was Nguyen Nguyen Vu whose sister Nguyen Thuy Quynh, 56, died in the bombing, while her husband, Le Duc Minh, was wounded. The couple, both aged 56, were in the seafood business, Quynh’s younger brother said. “We were all very shocked… My sister and her husband travel quite a lot and they are quite experienced in travelling abroad,” Vu told AFP. He said he was applying for a visa for Egypt and hoped to travel yesterday. “Our wish is that we could bring my sister back home.”

Vietnam’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang thanked Egyptians who were caring for the survivors. “Vietnam is very angry and strongly condemns the terrorist act that killed and injured many innocent Vietnamese and has asked Egypt to soon open an investigation, chase and give harsh punishment to those who carried out these terrorist act,” she said in a statement.

HH the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah sent a cable to Egyptian President Abdelfattah Al-Sisi to express strong denunciation of the bomb attack on the tourist bus. The attack is morally despicable and runs counter to all religious and humanitarian values as it targeted innocent civilians and left scores of casualties, he stressed. HH the Amir reaffirmed Kuwait’s firm support to the sisterly Arab Republic of Egypt in whatever measures it might take to protect its security and stability. He expressed sincere condolences to the families of the victims and wished the injured quick recovery.

HH the Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah sent similar cables to the Egyptian leader. An official of the Kuwaiti foreign ministry said Kuwait denounces in strong terms the bomb attack on the tourist bus. Such terrorist attacks that target civilians and put in peril the safety of innocent people highlight the need of doubling international efforts to combat terrorism, the official said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, the first attack to target tourists since 2017. Friday’s attack was the latest blow to Egypt’s vital tourism industry, which has been reeling from turmoil set off by the 2011 uprising that forced veteran president Hosni Mubarak from power. While tourism has picked up since 2011, the 8.2 million people who visited Egypt in 2017 are still a far cry from the 14.7 million who visited in the year before the uprising.

“Yesterday’s attack undermines the Egyptian government’s very determined message that the country is safe for tourists,” said Zack Gold, a US-based expert on Middle East security issues. Egypt has been seeking to lure tourists back by touting new archaeological discoveries and bolstering security around archaeological sites and in airports. It is also planning to open a major museum near the Giza pyramids – the only surviving structures of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

In July 2017, two German tourists were stabbed to death by a suspected militant at the Red Sea resort of Hurghada. In Oct 2015, a bomb claimed by a local affiliate of the Islamic State group killed 224 people on board a passenger jet carrying Russian tourists home from the Sinai Peninsula. Before Friday’s bombing, security forces were already on high alert ahead of New Year celebrations and the Coptic Christmas on Jan 7.

Pope Francis said he was “deeply saddened” by the attack on holidaymakers, in a telegram to the Egyptian presidency which was signed by his number two Pietro Parolin. “In deploring this senseless and brutal act, he prays for the victims and their families, for the injured and for the emergency personnel who generously came to their aid,” the telegram said. A spokesman for Britain’s Thomas Cook travel group said it had cancelled day trips to Cairo from Hurghada following the attack and it would continue to review the security situation.

The blast and the subsequent police raids come as Egypt battles a persistent insurgency in the North Sinai, which surged after the 2013 overthrow by the army of Mubarak’s Islamist successor Mohamed Morsi. Militants linked to the Islamic State group have claimed responsibility for previous attacks, including against Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority who make up about 10 percent of the population. The army launched a large-scale operation dubbed “Sinai 2018” in February to rid the Sinai of militants after an attack on a mosque in the north of the peninsula killed more than 300 people. The army says that hundreds of suspected jihadists have been killed since the campaign was launched. – Agencies

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