Militant group warns tourists to leave Egypt after suicide bombing kills four

Sinai-basedgroup that claimed responsibility for suicide bombing that killed four on Sunday threatens more attacks starting from today

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 8:42pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 9:10pm

A militant Islamist group has warned tourists to leave Egypt and threatened to attack any who stay after today, raising the prospect of a new front in an insurgency in the biggest Arab nation.

The Sinai-based Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis group, which claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed three South Korean tourists and an Egyptian on Sunday, made the statement on an affiliated Twitter account.

We recommend tourists to get out safely before the expiry of the deadline
Militant Islamist group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis

"We recommend tourists to get out safely before the expiry of the deadline," read the tweet, written in English, which Egypt's prime minister said on Tuesday aimed to undermine the political process begun after an army takeover in July.

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has said that it does not post statements on social media sites, but statements that appeared on the Twitter account in the past have afterwards surfaced on jihadist websites which the group says it does use.

Islamist militants have killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers since the army deposed Islamist president Mohammed Mursi seven months ago. Sunday's attack on a tourist bus marks a shift to soft targets that could devastate an economy reeling from political turmoil.

State television quoted Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi as saying Ansar was a threat to tourists. It aimed, he said, to derail the roadmap to elections unveiled by the army when Mursi's fall provoked the bloodiest internal crisis in Egypt's modern history.

Ansar has said it was behind Sunday's suicide bombing near the resort of Taba, which revived memories of an Islamist insurgency in the 1990s including a 1997 bloodbath at Luxor, when 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians were killed at a pharaoh's temple.

On Monday, Germany's foreign ministry changed its travel advice, telling travellers to be cautious about going to Egypt. It specifically discouraged travel to the Nile Delta outside the urban centres of Cairo and Alexandria.

Egypt's Western allies had hoped the uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 would bring political and economic stability to a country at the heart of the Arab world.

Instead, turmoil has gripped the nation of 85 million, which has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the Suez Canal, a global shipping lane.

In another sign of instability, an explosion wounded four Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai on Tuesday, the state-run Al Ahram newspaper reported on its website.

Tourism was a major employer and accounted for more than 10 per cent of gross domestic product before the revolt. Visitors are again down since army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi deposed Mursi, Mubarak's successor.

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Egypt's most active Islamist militant organisation, has threatened to topple the interim government installed by Sisi, who is expected to run for president.

The Egyptian state and 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 the 1990s insurgency which targeted senior government officials and foreign visitors, gutting tourism.

Ansar enjoys tacit support from at least some of the marginalised Bedouin community and smugglers in the Sinai. This has enabled them to survive several army offensives in the largely lawless peninsula.

"Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis poses the most formidable security threat in current-day Egypt," said Anthony Skinner of risk analysis firm Maplecroft.