62 Dead, 150 Wounded in Terror Attack on Egyptian Resort
Terrorists placed seven car bombs at various points around the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh on Friday and detonated them one after another, killing 62 persons and wounding another 150 (numbers as of early morning Saturday). The dead included 17 Egyptian workers at a coffee house near a bazaar, and persons from many nationalities were hurt– Kuwait, Qatar, Holland, Germany and Britain.
Of course we do not yet know the identity of the perpetrators. At the top of the suspect list would be al-Jihad al-Islami. The al-Jihad al-Islami organization of Ayman al-Zawahir has for over two decades targeted Egypt’s tourism industry with violent attacks. For al-Jihad al-Islami, this tactic has several benefits. Tourism is associated in the minds of many ordinary Egyptians with a libertine lifestyle offensive to the puritanism of Muslim piety. Then, Egypt depends heavily on tourism for foreign exchange, and it is an important part of the economy (worth nearly $3 billion a year in good years). Egypt’s economy grew 5.3 percent in 2004, the best it has done in a long while (September 11 badly hurt Egypt’s economy– Ayman al-Zawahiri’s little revenge on the homeland that exiled him). Egypt depends more heavily than ever on services and remittances. Its petroleum exports are slipping. It only earned $1.5 billion in oil revenues last year despite the big bump in prices (it was over $3 bn. in the mid-1990s).
So it is possible that al-Jihad al-Islami decided that Egypt is now especially vulnerable to an attack on its tourist industry. Unlike the bombings in the tourist district of Cairo, Khan al-Khalili, this past spring–which were amateurish– the Sharm el-Sheikh attack is clearly by an organized and trained group of terrorists. The likelihood is that this group–whoever it is– wants to revive the radical policies of the mid-1990s, when al-Jihad al-Islami tried to cripple Egypt’s tourist industry as a prelude to overthrowing the government. Reuters has done a chronology of attacks on tourists in Egypt.
How to set this attack in context?
The case of the attack on Taba last year, which targeted Israeli tourists, was never satisfactorily solved. The Egyptian government’s position that it was also a few amateurs has never seemed convincing to me. I suspect it was done by an al-Jihad al-Islami cell.
The murder of Egyptian diplomat in Iraq, Ihab Sherif, recently, underlined the way in which the jihadis see mainstream Egyptians as apostates cooperating with imperial powers.
Ayman al-Zawahiri is still at large and has a blood feud with the Mubarak government.