A militant Islamist group has told tourists to leave Egypt and threatened to attack those who remain in the country after February 20, warning that a deadly weekend attack on a tourist bus was part of a new "economic war".
The Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis group, which claimed responsibility for a Sunday suicide bombing near the resort of Taba that killed two South Korean tourists and an Egyptian, made the statement on an affiliated Twitter account.
“We recommend tourists to get out safely before the expiry of the deadline,” read the tweet, written in English.
FRANCE 24’s sister station RFI (Radio France Internationale) also reported that the Sinai-based group was behind the attack, citing General Abdel Fattah Osman, a high-ranking official in the Egyptian interior ministry.
The jihadist group said the bus attack was part of an "economic war" on the country's military rulers, an apparent bid to further devastate Egypt's tourism industry, once a vital source of income.
Until now, it has been the police and soldiers who have borne the brunt of a jihadist militant campaign. Islamist militants have killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers since the army deposed Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in July, but Sunday’s attack on a tourist bus marks a tactical shift to soft targets that could devastate an economy already reeling from political turmoil.
State television quoted Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi as saying Ansar was a threat to tourists, adding that it aimed to undermine a political roadmap unveiled after the army takeover last summer, which provoked the bloodiest internal crisis in Egypt’s modern history.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has said that it does not post statements on social media sites. However, statements that appeared on the Twitter account in the past have afterwards surfaced on jihadi websites, which the group says it does use.
The uprising that toppled longtime president Hosni Mubarak in early 2011 scared off many tourists, dealing a major blow to an industry that was a major employer and accounted for more than 10 percent of gross domestic product before the revolt.
Tourism again fell sharply since army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi deposed Mohammed Morsi, Mubarak’s successor, in a July coup last year.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Egypt’s most active Islamist militant organisation, has threatened to topple the interim government installed by Sisi.
'Most formidable' threat
“Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis poses the most formidable security threat in current-day Egypt,” said Anthony Skinner, Middle East and North Africa director at risk analyst Maplecroft.
“This is not only reflected in the attack on the tourist bus in Taba last weekend, but also in the series of bombings in the Nile Valley and Nile Delta regions.”
Ansar enjoys tacit support from at least some of the marginalised Bedouin community and smugglers in the Sinai, where militants have staged multiple attacks. This support has enabled them to survive several army offensives in the largely lawless peninsula.
The Egyptian state and Islamist militants are old foes. Islamist-leaning soldiers assassinated president Anwar al-Sadat in 1981, mainly because of his peace treaty with Israel. It took Mubarak years to put down an insurgency in the 1990s that targeted senior government officials and foreign visitors, gutting the tourism industry.
In one of the boldest recent attacks claimed by Ansar, a car bomb killed 16 people at security headquarters in the city of Mansoura on December 24.
That attack was claimed on the same Twitter account before jihadi sites carried the official statement.
The group has extended its reach beyond the Sinai to cities including Cairo, where it claimed responsibility for an assassination attempt on the interior minister.
The group also claimed responsibility for the shooting death of an interior ministry general.
“This statement, if genuine, would add tourism quite explicitly to the target set already outlined by Ansar, which includes security forces and economic interests of the state and the army,” said Anna Boyd, an analyst at London-based IHS Jane’s, a security and defence analysis group.
An army source told Reuters that the latest attacks were a reaction to an Egyptian military offensive that was hurting militants. “They are breathing their last breath,” he said.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)
Date created : 2014-02-18