Egypt border police on alert after tour bus bombing



TABA, Tony Gamal-Gabriel- Egyptian police kept careful watch Tuesday as tourists heading to the Taba border crossing walked past a stretch of scorched pavement where a suicide bomber killed three South Korean sightseers.
The Sunday bombing on board a tour bus was the first to target tourists since the July 3 military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, raising fears that jihadists may be shifting towards so-called "soft targets" in their bid to destabilise the country.



When a car stopped near the crossing a policeman immediately ran over and shouted at the driver to leave, saying: "It's forbidden; you can't stay here."
A bag left by a journalist on the pavement nearby also sparked an uproar, with police jumping to their feet to ask to whom it belonged.
The local jihadist group that claimed the attack said it was part of an "economic war" on the country's military-installed authorities, an apparent bid to further devastate Egypt's tourism industry, once a vital source of income.
Until now the police and soldiers have borne the brunt of a jihadist militant campaign that accelerated after Morsi's overthrow.
"We are not enough prepared. We lack men and equipment," a police officer at the border said.
"But what can we do?"
On Tuesday, dozens of tourists disembarked from buses parked at the scene of the attack, walking past the scorched pavement through heavy security towards the Taba border crossing with Israel.
"I don't have time; I don't have time", said a distressed-sounding Peruvian tourist, part of a group hurrying towards the crossing.
When asked if he felt safe in Egypt, he briefly answered no, shaking his head.
James Tomasowa of Indonesia was at Saint Catherine's, a 6th century desert monastery and popular tourism site in southern Sinai, when he heard the news.
"I was a little worried... But now I think it's okay; it's fine," he added, looking around at the scores of police fanning out from the border crossing.
Mohamed Ahmed, a 29-year-old security guard working at a hotel mall by the crossing, said everyone is now being more vigilant.
"Now we don't allow cars and buses to park by the hotel, and we search thoroughly anybody entering the hotel," Ahmed said.
"We even search police and army officers and ask for their IDs."
- Echoes of past attacks -
A few metres (yards) from the crossing the charred carcass of the bus, its windows shattered and its twisted metallic frame scorched black, was parked at a local police station.
Police said a suicide bomber boarded the bus and detonated his payload on the steps, killing three members of a South Korean tour group and wounding more than a dozen others.
The bombing was claimed by Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, a Sinai-based jihadist group that has launched a string of attacks in recent months targeting security forces in the Sinai, the Nile Delta and even the police headquarters in Cairo.
The militant campaign has added to the unrest convulsing the country since the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, whose autocratic regime largely crushed an Islamist insurgency in the 1990s.
The lawless Sinai is no stranger to militant attacks, but after a string of bombings targeting tourists between 2004 and 2006 sightseers had returned in growing numbers, eager to enjoy its year-round sunny beaches, coral reefs and ancient monasteries.
The police officer at the border, who witnessed the attack, said it immediately brought back memories of the 2004 bombing of the nearby Hilton hotel, which left more than 30 people dead.
"It was the same scene, people screaming and running away. In a second, the street was completely empty," he said.
As with past terror attacks, the bombing did not deter everyone, and a group of Indian tourists entering Egypt from the crossing struck a philosophical tone.
"When your time comes, it comes," Ana Joseph, 65, said.
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Wednesday, February 19th 2014
Tony Gamal-Gabriel
           


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