Oct 11, 2004

Terror Attacks in Egypt

Al Qaeda and the Terrorist Attacks in Egypt. The multiple bomb attacks on Thursday at resorts on Egypt's Red Sea coast, which killed dozens and wounded more than a hundred fifty, the majority of whom were Israelis on vacation during the Jewish holidays, bear the unmistakable hallmarks of al Qaeda. While Palestinian terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas have historically not operated in Egypt, the Egyptian Jihad group, which merged its operations with al Qaeda in the late '90s, has carried out numerous terrorist operations in Egypt over the past two decades. And so, Egyptian members of al Qaeda must be considered the leading suspects in the attacks. The first indication that al Qaeda is behind the Egyptian bombings is the simultaneous nature of the attacks, a hallmark of the terrorist organization that was seen first in the attacks on the two US embassies in Africa in 1998, and was, of course, later seen during the 9/11 assaults on Washington and New York. The second indication is that attacking Jewish targets is an al Qaeda strategy that has emerged strongly in the past couple of years. Despite the fact that in 1998 bin Laden declared that he was creating the "World Islamic Front against the Crusaders and the Jews" al Qaeda only started attacking Israeli or Jewish targets in early 2002. Since then al Qaeda and its affiliated groups have directed an intense campaign against Israeli and Jewish targets,bombing a Tunisian synagogue killing a group of German tourists, launching attacks against two synagogues in Istanbul that killed twenty three; bombing a Jewish center and cemetery in Casablanca, Morocco that killed forty four, and attacking an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombassa, Kenya, killing thirteen. At the same time as the attack on the Kenyan hotel, al Qaeda also tried to bring down an Israeli passenger jet with rocket propelled grenades, an attempt that was unsuccessful. The Egyptian attacks also serve another al Qaeda strategic goal. A year after 9/11 both bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawhiri called for attacks on western economic targets. One of the lessons of 9/11 for al Qaeda's leaders was the hundreds of billions of dollars damage it caused to the US economy, and by extension the global economy. Shortly after bin Laden and al-Zawhiri issued their call for attacks on economic targets a French oil tanker steaming off the coast of Yemen was targeted by suicide attackers, and a disco catering to western tourists in Indonesia blew up killing two hundred. Oil and tourism are obviously vital to the global economy. And so, the attacks on the Egyptian tourist destinations also help al Qaeda's campaign of the past two years to disrupt the global economy. The largest of the bombs that blew up on Thursday devastated a Hilton hotel in the resort of Taba. The attack on the Hilton is part of an emerging al Qaeda strategy to attack targets with well known western brand names. In 2002 a Sheraton hotel in Karachi, Pakistan was attacked killing eleven French defense contractors. In 2003 a suicide bomber killed twelve at a JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. Shell gas stations in Pakistan and McDonald?s restaurants in the Middle East have also been the target of bombings in the past two years. Thursday's attacks represent another worrisome development. Since 1997 Egypt's largest terrorist organization, the Islamic Group, which was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of tourists, Christians and policemen in Egypt during the early- and mid-90s, has abided by a ceasefire with the Egyptian government. That ceasefire followed what became known as the Luxor massacre when a group of terrorists knifed and shot fifty six tourists visiting Pharaonic monuments along the Nile. Popular revulsion in Egypt against the attacks led the Islamic Group to sign on to a ceasefire with government. However, Ayman al Zawhiri's Jihad group never agreed to such a ceasefire, instead merging with bin Laden's al Qaeda in 1998. That merger has since borne bitter fruit in places around the world from Manhattan to Mombassa, and now it seems Egypt.