ISIS militants had many motives for attack on Christians in Minya

ISIS, which quickly claimed responsibility for the November 2 attack, wanted to show it was active and strong.
Sunday 11/11/2018
A general view of the entrance to Minya city, on November 3. (Reuters)
In the crosshairs. A general view of the entrance to Minya city, on November 3. (Reuters)

CAIRO - An attack on Christians in the central Egyptian province of Minya did not happen haphazardly or without planning, analysts said.

The November 2 assault was aimed at stopping Egyptian efforts to revive its tourism sector, they said, adding that the attack showed terrorism remains a threat to stability in Egypt and could affect relations between the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Egypt’s Christian minority.

“The tourism sector is picking up with the countries that imposed travel bans on Egypt in the past three years lifting them,” said tourism expert Adel Abdel Razik. “Hotel occupancy is on the rise and the resorts are becoming full once more.”

Seven Christians were killed and 14 others injured in an ambush by militants on November 2 after the Christians left the Saint Samuel Monastery. Survivors said the militants ordered women to hand over jewellery before they started shooting. They, however, spared children and the women.

The Islamic State (ISIS), which claimed responsibility for the shootings, killed 29 Christians in a similar attack in May near the same site. Forty-eight hours later, policemen killed 19 suspected militants in a mountainous area near Minya, including those they said carried out the attack.

The attack occurred as the Red Sea resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada prepared for the return of direct flights from Russia for the first time since the bombing of a Russian passenger plane over Sinai in late 2015.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in October that his administration would consider the resumption of flights to the two resorts soon. Approximately 3 million Russian tourists a year visited Egypt before the plane bombing led officials to suspend direct flights to the area.

On the same day of the attack, Coptic Pope Tawadros II received the first group of French tourists visiting Egypt through the Holy Family programme. The group’s itinerary included visits to churches in Cairo, the Western Desert, Luxor and Aswan, locations, legend has it, Jesus, Mary and Joseph visited when they had sought refuge.

The ISIS attack may force Egyptian authorities to restrict Holy Family journey tours to Cairo, Abdel Razik said. “The tours should include sites in the Western Desert after operations against the terrorists come to an end,” he added.

ISIS justifies attacks on Christians through fatwas issued by fundamentalist and extremist sheikhs who view Christians as “infidels.” The Christians are also widely perceived as having aided Sisi when he led the army in backing a popular uprising against Islamist President Muhammad Morsi in 2013.

The Western Desert is at the centre of Operation Sinai 2018, an Egyptian counterterrorism campaign that has focused on central and north Sinai. The operation, which began in February, includes southern provinces. In Sinai, Egyptian troops have reduced ISIS’s capabilities to a minimum, the army said.

The Interior Ministry is running a campaign that includes raids on terrorist hideouts in southern provinces. On October 15, police killed nine militants in desert areas in the southern provinces of Asyut and Sohag.

ISIS, which quickly claimed responsibility for the November 2 attack, wanted to show it was active and strong, analysts said.

“The terrorist group wants to say that it is still capable of staging attacks,” said Munir Adeeb, an Islamist groups’ specialist. “However, the fact that ISIS is only able to strike outside Sinai shows that it is being defeated.”

The site of the attack leads to Egypt’s border with Libya through mountainous passageways, most of which are controlled by smuggling gangs. The attack, security analysts said, demonstrates coordination between the gangs and ISIS.

The fact that Christians were killed in the same place as the May attack showed the attack was aimed at fuelling tensions between Sisi’s government and the Christian minority, analysts said.

They added that the attack was meant to give the impression that the government is incapable of protecting Christians.

“This has international implications by giving the impression that Egypt’s government is weak,” said security expert Hossam Suweilam. “It also aimed to incite the Christians against the government, hoping to spark a violent reaction by the Christian minority.”