Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis took responsibility for Sunday’s bombing of a bus full of Christian tourists in the Egyptian border town of Taba that left 4 dead and 13 injured, according to The Times of Israel.
Israel radio reported that the organisation promised to continue to attack Egypt’s economy, tourism, and military.
The bus carrying was carrying 31 South Korean tourists. The bomb ripped through the bus as it waited to cross into Israel at a Sinai border crossing, only 100 yards from Israeli territory. Three South Koreans were killed along with their Egyptian driver.
The tourists were all members of the same church group who were on a 12-day trip through Turkey, Egypt and Israel.
This was the first terror attack against Egypt’s tourists in over five years, and notably the first since Egypt’s Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was ousted by the army in July 2013, sparking civil unrest and dozens of attacks across Egypt that have mainly targeted security forces, especially in the largely lawless Sinai Peninsula. Through 2008, tourists were a common target of Egyptian Islamist terrorists.
The attack seemed to serve several purposes for the Egyptian al-Qaeda affiliate and dominant Islamist group in the Sinai. Most directly, it targeted tourists in Egypt, an easy economic target. Once a robust industry, tourism in Egypt has dwindled. It had staged a bit of a comeback prior to the ousters of President Mubarak and then President Morsi, but has plummeted since–down 41 percent in 2013 alone.
But the blast was also aimed at Israel. It directly targeted Israel-bound tourists, and served as a reminder that the worldwide jihad is at Israel’s doorstep. Sinai jihadists have launched rockets at Eilat, Israel’s Red Sea port. Their possession and use of surface to air missiles has forced Israel to alter flight paths, and briefly closed down Eialt’s airport last summer.
While it is difficult for the jihadists to actually penetrate into Israeli territory, attacks such as this nevertheless are felt by Israel.
It is also likely no coincidence that the Islamist terrorists targeted a group of Christian pilgrims. 1.8 million Christians visit Israel annually, many arriving from the Sinai.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is made up of a mix of radicalized Beduin, Salafist residents of Egypt and, increasingly, foreign volunteers. The group has engaged in a number of deadly Sinai bombings and ambushes of Egyptian military and police. They have attacked security outposts and military buses, and last month shot down an Egyptian army helicopter with a shoulder-fired missile.