At­tack­ers tar­get ma­jor Egyptian tourist spot

As many as three sus­pects are killed. The vi­o­lence im­per­ils a still-shaky in­dus­try.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Amro Has­san and Laura King laura.king@la­times.com Twit­ter: @lau­rak­ingLAT Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Has­san re­ported from Cairo and Times staff writer King from Istanbul, Turkey.

CAIRO — In a stark new threat to Egypt’s frag­ile tourist in­dus­try, at­tack­ers on Wed­nes­day tried to blast their way into one of the coun­try’s best-known at­trac­tions, the mon­u­men­tal Tem­ple of Kar­nak in Luxor.

The as­sault — a sui­cide ex­plo­sion and fierce ex­change of gun­fire — left as many as three at­tack­ers dead and at least five peo­ple in­jured, Egyptian of­fi­cials and news re­ports said. It came a week af­ter uniden­ti­fied gun­men killed two tourism po­lice of­fi­cers in a driveby shoot­ing near the pyra­mids of Giza out­side Cairo.

There was no im­me­di­ate claim of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the two at­tacks. How­ever, taken to­gether they raised the specter of an or­ga­nized cam­paign by mil­i­tants to tar­get the coun­try’s sag­ging but still lu­cra­tive tourism sec­tor, which had been show­ing signs of re­cov­ery.

Luxor, in south­ern Egypt, is one of the coun­try’s trea­sure houses of an­tiq­ui­ties. The Tem­ple of Kar­nak, bor­dered by the mod­ern city, is a sprawl­ing com­plex of tow­er­ing stone pil­lars, in­tri­cate carv­ings and im­mense stat­u­ary.

The of­fi­cial Mid­dle East News Agency quoted a spokesman for the Health Min­istry, Hosszam Ab­dul Ghaf­far, as say­ing that two at­tack­ers were killed in an ex­change of fire and the ex­plo­sion, and that a third died of his wounds at a hos­pi­tal. But of­fi­cials later said the badly mu­ti­lated re­mains made it dif­fi­cult to say with cer­tainty that two at­tack­ers, rather than a sin­gle bomber, had died at the scene.

The Health Min­istry re­ported that three peo­ple were in­jured. How­ever, sev­eral Egyptian news re­ports put the num­ber at five and said at least two were be­lieved to be po­lice of­fi­cers.

Au­thor­i­ties cred­ited se­cu­rity forces with pre­vent­ing what could have been a cat­a­strophic strike.

“Three at­tack­ers armed with bombs and weapons tried to cross the se­cu­rity cor­don at Kar­nak Tem­ple but were faced by se­cu­rity forces who foiled their at­tempt,” the In­te­rior Min­istry said in a state­ment. It also said three at­tack­ers died.

There was no in­di­ca­tion that any vis­i­tors were close to the ex­plo­sion or gun­fight. The com­plex’s park­ing lot and en­try hall, f lanked by shops and ven­dors’ stalls, sit sev­eral hun­dred yards from the clos­est en­try point to the vast ru­ins.

Though the Kar­nak site is popular, of­fi­cials quoted by the As­so­ci­ated Press said there were only a few vis­i­tors and guides in the city-sized com­plex at the time of the attack. Sum­mer has not be­gun, but day­time tem­per­a­tures in south­ern Egypt are rou­tinely above 90 de­grees.

Luxor in 1997 was the scene of Egypt’s dead­li­est attack tar­get­ing vis­i­tors, when Is­lamist gun­men mas­sa­cred more than 60 peo­ple, most of them for­eign tourists. That attack took place at the Tem­ple of Hat­shep­sut, on the op­po­site bank of the Nile, where many pharaonic tombs and tem­ples are.

The po­lice shoot­ing on June 3 near the pyra­mids came just two days af­ter the gov­ern­ment had touted an im­prov­ing pic­ture for the tourist in­dus­try, which had all but col­lapsed af­ter the 2011 up­ris­ing that forced out long­time au­to­cratic Pres­i­dent Hosni Mubarak.

Though still not ap­proach­ing pre-revo­lu­tion num­bers, more vis­i­tors ar­rived in the first quar­ter of this year than in the same pe­riod last year, the Egyptian Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton said.

Is­lamic mil­i­tants, an­gry over the ouster nearly two years ago of Is­lamist Pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Morsi and a crack­down that killed hun­dreds of his fol­low­ers, have mainly aimed strikes at se­cu­rity forces and po­lice and mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions. But a string of small bomb­ings in re­cent months tar­geted com­mer­cial es­tab­lish­ments, many of them with over­seas ties, in an ap­par­ent ef­fort to dis­cour­age in­vestors.

Morsi’s Mus­lim Brotherhood, which was de­clared a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, says it is com­mit­ted to non­vi­o­lence, but other groups have ded­i­cated them­selves to bomb­ings and other at­tacks aimed at un­der­min­ing Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah Sisi, who as de­fense min­is­ter led the pop­u­larly sup­ported coup that de­posed Morsi.

Sisi has jailed tens of thou­sands of sus­pected Is­lamists, and Morsi is fac­ing an ar­ray of charges. He has re­ceived a pro­vi­sional death sen­tence in one of the cases against him, and a court is to de­cide next week whether to af­firm the ver­dict.

Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

TOURISTS VISIT the Luxor Tem­ple in Egypt. The nearby Kar­nak Tem­ple was at­tacked. Some re­ports said five peo­ple were in­jured, in­clud­ing two po­lice of­fi­cers.

AFP/Getty Images

HU­MAN RE­MAINS at Kar­nak af­ter the attack. Last week, two tourism po­lice­men were killed in Giza.

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