A suicide bomber blew himself up near Egypt’s ancient Karnak temple in the southern city of Luxor on Wednesday, security sources said, a possible sign that militants are shifting focus to target the country’s economic recovery.
Although officials said no tourists were wounded, the attack at Karnak is the second in just over a week on a major tourist site in Egypt, where tourism is a vital source of income and foreign currency.
Since the military toppled Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in 2013, militants have killed hundreds in a campaign targeting mostly police and soldiers.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who as army chief ousted Mursi after mass protests against his rule, has promised Egyptians he will revive an economy battered by turmoil since an uprising ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule in 2011.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which revived memories of 1997 when Islamist militants killed 58 tourists and four Egyptians at another temple nearby.
It took Mubarak years to stamp out an Islamist insurgency in the 1990s that targeted mostly tourists, members of the security forces and senior government officials.
Fears that militants, who have pledged allegiance to Islamic State, may shift focus toward tourism targets arose just over a week ago when gunmen on a motorcycle shot dead two members of Egypt’s tourism and antiquities police force near the Giza pyramids.
SECURITY AT ANCIENT SITES
Antiquities Minister Mamdouh al-Damaty said on Wednesday he had ordered security to be tightened at ancient sites across Egypt. Four Egyptians were wounded in the attack, according to the health ministry.
Security sources told Reuters that security had already been stepped up following the shooting near the Giza pyramids.
“Our investigations confirmed to us that those who are behind the terrorists want to target police and hit the Egyptian economy at the same time,” one of the sources said.
He said the militants wanted to “grab the world’s attention” by carrying out their attack to coincide with a pan-African trade conference in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, which the World Bank president and Sisi were attending.
“They knew there was an important conference in Sharm el-Sheikh,” the source said.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement on Karnak that three “terrorist elements” were stopped from passing a security cordon by security forces protecting the temple.
Two assailants were killed, one of them by detonating a bomb he was carrying. The third was wounded by gunshots to the head, the ministry said.
The interior minister told MENA later on Wednesday that the assailants carried five explosive devices, guns and ammunition.
Bazaar shop owners and two policemen were among the four people wounded, security sources said.
Images from the scene of the explosion showed what appeared to be body parts on the ground in front of a tourist shop and atop a public restroom.
Uniformed and plainclothes police gathered nearby, and ambulances were parked beside tourist buses.
ATTACK A THREAT TO TOURISM
German tourist Nico Wuertz said he was visiting Karnak at the time. “We were sightseeing in the temple when we heard an explosion and then shooting. Police asked us to seek shelter. We were afraid but nothing happened,” he said.
“We will continue our vacation. Egypt is a great place, many things to see and sunshine all the time. But there is also some fear now,” Wuertz added.
Police cordoned off the blast site and interviewed witnesses. One tourism worker near the temple told Reuters: “Tourism was already weak. This attack will kill it.”
The latest violence will hamper Egypt’s efforts to win back tourists and foreign investors who only recently welcomed Sisi’s economic reforms such as slashing fuel subsidies.
Separately, security sources said two small roadside bombs were discovered by security forces in the Cairo area, while a soldier was killed by gunmen in the North Sinai town of Rafah, bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip, according to security and medical sources.