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Middle east

Deadly blast hits Egypt tourist bus near Israeli border

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-17

An explosion ripped through a tourist bus near a border crossing between Egypt and Israel on Sunday, killing at least three South Koreans and the Egyptian driver.

A group affiliated with al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the attack via Twitter, according to FRANCE24’s sister station RFI.

The group is known as Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, according to RFI (Radio France Internationale), which cited General Abdel Fattah Osman, a high-ranking official in the Egyptian interior ministry, as the source.

The bomb exploded in the front part of the bus at the Taba border crossing with Israel in south Sinai on February 16. Rescue workers found three bodies at the scene of the attack and the badly burnt remains of one or possibly two other people, said Khaled Abu Hashem, the head of ambulance services in southern Sinai.

Almost all 33 passengers on the bus were wounded by the explosion, with 12 suffering serious injuries. The wounded were being treated in hospitals in Eilat in Israel, Taba and the coastal resort towns of Nuweiba and Sharm al-Sheikh to the south on the Red Sea coast.

Osman, the source cited by RFI, said that surveillance cameras outside a nearby hotel showed an individual – now the bombing suspect -- stopping in front of the bus as it stopped.

In Seoul, the foreign ministry said in a text message that 31 passengers were from a church in Jincheon, in the country's Choongbuk Province, being led by a South Korean tour guide. Only two of its nationals were found dead and nine were injured, the ministry added.

Such discrepancies in death tolls often occur in the initial stages of an emergency response.

The Egyptian security officials said the bus had arrived at the Taba crossing from the ancient Greek Orthodox monastery of St. Catherine's in central Sinai. The journey, they said, originated in Cairo, Egypt's capital.

Blast witness

A doctor who had been waiting for a bus nearby witnessed the blast.

"There were body parts and corpses. I saw the corpse of a man who appeared to be Korean, with a leg missing," said Ahmed Ali, who runs a clinic in a neighbouring resort.
The explosion blew off the front of the yellow bus and tore out parts of the roof.

Egyptian security officials said the bus had arrived at the Taba crossing from the ancient monastery of St. Catherine's in central Sinai. The journey, they said, originated in Cairo.
"Terrorism has no religion. The police and the army are working to eliminate it," said the South Sinai governor Khaled Fouda.

A spokesman for the Israel Airports Authority, which is responsible for border security, said the Taba crossing had been closed in the wake of the blast.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Wave of attacks

The military-installed government has accused the Muslim Brotherhood of masterminding a wave of attacks since its leader, Mohamed Morsi, was deposed as president in July.

Sunday's bombing came as a court in Cairo began trying Morsi and 35 co-defendants on charges of espionage and collusion with militants to launch attacks in Egypt.

The Brotherhood, now designated as a terrorist group, denies involvement in the bombings.

The deadliest attacks have instead been claimed by the Sinai-based Ansar Beit al-Maqdis group, whose leadership is drawn from militant Bedouin who want an Islamist state in the peninsula.

That group also took responsibility for downing a military helicopter in Sinai on January 25 using a heat-seeking shoulder-fired missile.

The attack is likely to further damage Egypt's foundering tourism industry.

While tourism has been sporadically targeted by militants over the past two decades, Sunday's attack was the first in the recent wave of bombings to target tourists.

The unrest had already hit tourism, a vital earner in Egypt. The government's census agency said the number of tourists was down by almost 31 percent in December 2013 compared with the same month in 2012.

Between 2004 and 2006, scores of Egyptians and foreign tourists were killed in a spate of bombings in resorts in south Sinai.

"I am deeply saddened by the incident,'' Tourism Minister Hesham Zazou told state TV.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-02-16

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