Egypt says its se­cu­rity forces killed 40 mil­i­tants

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Americas | World - BY HAMZA HEN­DAWI

CAIRO

Egypt said Satur­day its se­cu­rity forces have killed 40 mil­i­tants in raids on their hide­outs in the Si­nai Penin­sula and the Greater Cairo area, just hours af­ter a road­side bomb tar­geted a tourist bus in the cap­i­tal, killing three Viet­namese tourists and their Egyp­tian guide.

In a Satur­day state­ment, the In­te­rior Min­istry, which over­sees the po­lice, said 10 of the mil­i­tants were killed when the se­cu­rity forces stormed their hide­out in el-Ar­ish, a coastal city in the tur­bu­lent north of Si­nai, epi­cen­ter of a long-run­ning in­sur­gency by Is­lamists.

An­other 14 were killed in the Cairo sub­urb of Oc­to­ber 6 and 16 more in a hous­ing project on a high­way head­ing west from Cairo. The state­ment said the mil­i­tants were pre­par­ing for at­tacks on gov­ern­ment and tourism fa­cil­i­ties, army and po­lice per­son­nel, as well as Chris­tian churches.

The min­istry also re­leased a se­ries of im­ages pur­port­edly de­pict­ing some of the mil­i­tants killed in the raids, with as­sault ri­fles seen next to their blood­ied bod­ies.

The state­ment did not say when the raids took place, sug­gest­ing that the tim­ing of its re­lease was de­signed at least in part to show that se­cu­rity forces were scor­ing suc­cesses against mil­i­tants across the coun­try and staunch po­ten­tial crit­i­cism of their per­ceived fail­ure to pro­tect tourists.

The area where the at­tack took place — Mar­i­outiyah, near the famed Giza Pyra­mids — has seen a se­ries of at­tacks over the past two years, mostly tar­get­ing the po­lice. It is also widely sus­pected of be­ing home to ji­hadist cells loyal to the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood, an Is­lamist group re­moved from power by the mil­i­tary in 2013 af­ter its di­vi­sive rule lasted one year.

Fri­day night’s at­tack took place as Egypt’s vi­tal tourism in­dus­try was show­ing en­cour­ag­ing signs of re­cov­ery af­ter years in the dol­drums be­cause of the po­lit­i­cal tur­moil and vi­o­lence that fol­lowed a 2011 up­ris­ing that top­pled an au­to­cratic pres­i­dent. The re­vival of the la­bor-in­ten­sive sec­tor has been warmly wel­comed in a coun­try whose econ­omy is strug­gling to find its foot­ing, with a se­ries of am­bi­tious re­forms un­leash­ing wave af­ter wave of steep price rises.

The at­tack is also likely to prompt au­thor­i­ties to fur­ther tighten se­cu­rity around tourists and the fa­cil­i­ties they fre­quent — ho­tels, mu­se­ums, an­tiq­uity sites and bazaars — dur­ing the busy hol­i­day sea­son.

Se­cu­rity mea­sures al­ready cause long de­lays at the coun­try’s air­ports and an­tiq­uity sites. Tourist buses rou­tinely get a po­lice es­cort and Egyp­tians are gen­er­ally sub­jected to even more strin­gent se­cu­rity checks at tourist fa­cil­i­ties.

There will likely be stepped up se­cu­rity mea­sures for churches and asso- ciated fa­cil­i­ties ahead of the New Year’s Eve cel­e­bra­tions and next month’s Christ­mas of the Cop­tic Or­tho­dox Church, the dominant de­nom­i­na­tion among Egypt’s es­ti­mated 10 mil­lion Chris­tians.

Egypt has bat­tled Is­lamic mil­i­tants for years in the Si­nai Penin­sula in an in­sur­gency that has oc­ca­sion­ally spilled over to the main­land, strik­ing mi­nor­ity Chris­tians or tourists. How­ever, Fri­day’s at­tack was the first to tar­get for­eign tourists in al­most two years.

Over the past two years, mil­i­tant at­tacks against Chris­tians in Egypt — usu­ally tar­get­ing churches or buses car­ry­ing pil­grims to re­mote desert monas­ter­ies — have killed over a hun­dred peo­ple, prompt­ing au­thor­i­ties to in­tro­duce me­tal de­tec­tors and body searches out­side churches.

In some churches, guards de­mand to see proof that vis­i­tors are Chris­tians, of­ten in the form of the cross tat­tooed on the right wrist that many Egyp­tian Chris­tians get in their in­fancy.

Fri­day’s blast wounded 11 other Viet­namese tourists as well as the Egyp­tian driver of the bus, which was car­ry­ing a to­tal of 15 Viet­namese tourists, ac­cord­ing to Viet­nam’s Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs. It said that 10 were se­ri­ously in­jured.

Viet­namese Am­bas­sador to Egypt Tran Thanh Cong vis­ited the scene of the at­tack and Al Haram Hos­pi­tal, where the vic­tims were be­ing treated, the min­istry said.

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