Giza attack raises security questions for Egypt

In cracking down on terrorist groups, Egyptian counterterrorism agencies pursued a strategy that focused on hunting down terrorist leaders.
Sunday 06/01/2019
A view of a tourist bus that was attacked in Giza province south of Cairo, December 28. (AFP)
Sowing fear. A view of a tourist bus that was attacked in Giza province south of Cairo, December 28. (AFP)

CAIRO - A bomb attack on a tourist bus that killed four people near the Giza Pyramids shows terrorist threats are far from being over in Egypt, security analysts said.

“Some terrorist sleeper cells are still there and they need to be eradicated,” said retired army colonel and terrorism expert Hatem Saber. “They want to prove they are still there, which is why I expect other attacks in the coming months.”

The bus was carrying tourists from Vietnam, a new market for the Egyptian tourism sector, which generally heavily depended on European and Russian tourists.

The bus was travelling from a highway connecting the southern part of Cairo with the Giza Pyramids when a bomb was remotely detonated and killed three Vietnamese tourists and an Egyptian guide.

There was no claim of responsibility for the December 28 attack but security analysts said it carried the hallmarks of a terrorist group affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The attack, tourism experts said, would most likely not negatively affect the tourism sector, which has started picking up after years of recession.

“There is nothing exceptional about this attack, either its scale or the number of victims,” said Adel Abdel Razik, the former deputy head of the Federation of Tourist Chambers, the independent guild of tour operators and tourism investors. “It is a real tragedy but it can happen anywhere in the world, even in the most secure of countries,”

Tens of thousands of visitors have been heading to Egypt, raising hotel occupancy in many tourist destinations to their highest level in years. Tourists continued to visit the pyramids even the day after the attack. “I think terrorism can strike anywhere in the world,” a South Korean tourist told Agence-France Presse. “You have to be careful but it is also like luck.”

The terrorist threat is also a major concern given how long and hard security forces have been fighting terrorist groups in Egypt.

Egypt has been battling a branch of the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Sinai Peninsula for almost four years, in addition to combating pro-Muslim Brotherhood groups.

“We have already moved a long way on the road to ending terrorist presence altogether,” said retired army General Gamal Eddine Mazloum. “Preventive strikes by the army and police against terrorist groups are paralysing the terrorists and making our country more secure.”

However, as the latest attack shows, the terrorist threat has not been completely neutralised. At the same time, terrorist attacks in 2018 declined sharply from previous years.

The Giza bus attack was the eighth major attack in 2018, said the State Information Service, the official media and public relations apparatus of the Egyptian state. This was the lowest number of attacks in five years. In 2017, there were 50 terrorist attacks across the country. In 2016, there were 199 attacks and there were 222 attacks in 2014, the report said.

In cracking down on terrorist groups, Egyptian counterterrorism agencies pursued a strategy that focused on hunting down terrorist leaders. They did this with ISIS Sinai, which lost almost all its senior leaders, and with pro-Brotherhood militias that mainly targeted policemen, army officers and Egypt’s Christian minority.

This strategy, security analysts said, weakened militant groups and undermined their ability to stage major attacks.

The bomb that went off as the tourist bus passed near the pyramids on December 28 was likely not part of a meticulous plan but rather an attack of opportunity.

After the attack, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli said the bus should not have used the road where the attack took place. “The bus should have used another route decided beforehand by security agencies in coordination with tour operators,” he said.

Those who planted the bomb might have been planning to use the device to attack a church where preparations for New Year celebrations and the Coptic Christmas on January 7 were taking place.

Tens of thousands of policemen are deployed near churches to prevent attacks.

“Security agencies are tightening the noose around the terrorists and forcing them to run out of targets,” Mazloum said. “This is why these terrorists want to prove that they are still alive but this will not deny the fact that their days are numbered.”