Ansar Beit al-Maqdes claims responsibility for Taba bombing

The Sinai-based Islamist militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdes claimed responsibility on Tuesday for the bombing of a tourist bus on Sunday in Taba, Reuters news agency reported.

The attack killed three South Korean tourists and one Egyptian driver, amidst fears that the terrorist attacks that had mainly been targeting government establishments will now start hitting tourists. The group claiming responsibility threatened of more attacks against economic targets.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdes claimed that the attack was a suicide bomb launched by one of its members, who was on the bus traveling from Sinai’s Saint Catherine to the bordering Israel.

“With God’s will we will be watching this treacherous gang of infiltrators and we will target their economic interests in all places in order to paralyze their hands from [harming] Muslims,” the statement by Ansar Beit al-Maqdes, as quoted by Reuters, read.

The Turkish Andolou news agency reported that the group has given tourists four days to leave the country safely, warning of future attacks on tourists. However, the warning was attributed to a Twitter account which could not be verified.

Meanwhile, the state-owned Middle East News Agency reported a South Korean foreign ministry official as saying that it is too early to decide who is behind the attack, or to deduce whether the South Korean tourists had been deliberately targeted. He added that his country is awaiting investigation results from Egypt in order to know if the attack was targeted at tourists, or if it was done to harm the economy.

According to privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm, Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi reportedly told chief editors of several newspapers that the negative effects of the Taba bombing are already unfolding.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdes has recently claimed responsibility for a number of terrorist attacks, including the most recent attack on the vital Cairo Security Directorate on January 24. The group had also claimed the deadlier car bombing near the Daqahliya Security Directorate on December 24, killing a dozen people.

David Barnett, a researcher focused on Salafi Jihadis at the Foundation for Defense on Democracies, has warned of the Egyptian government’s light hand vis a vis the group, in the wake of its focused crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Barnett says that despite the lack of evidence connecting the Muslim Brotherhood to Ansar Beit al-Maqdes, the government continues to maintain this stance.

“Cairo’s current approach may not be properly addressing the serious jihadi threat to Egypt that was once clearly limited to the Sinai Peninsula, but has now reached across the Suez Canal…This raises serious questions as to whether enough resources are being deployed to deal with Egypt’s growing jihadi problem, particularly as these forces display an ability to adapt to ongoing Egyptian military operations,” he wrote in a commentary for National Interest.

Sinai was the site of Islamist militancy from 2004 through to 2006 when a series of attacks rocked several beach resorts killing tens and negatively affecting tourism in the area. But more deadly tourist attacks are reminiscent of the 1990s with recurrent bombings by Islamist groups against tourist destinations.