November 19, 1997 in Nation/World

Survivors Recount Gruesome Slaughter By Islamic Militants

Douglas Jehl New York Times
 

In the Middle Court of the Temple of Hatshepsut on Tuesday, piles of newly strewn sand could not disguise the fact that a structure dating from before 1400 B.C. had become a 20th-century slaughterhouse.

Blood spattered the ancient colonnades, and sandstone pillars were marked by bullet holes and bits of flesh.

These traces of evidence, together with accounts by survivors, began to provide a gruesome picture of the Monday morning massacre in which Islamic militants fell upon two groups of tourists admiring the memorial to a queen who wore a false beard to rule as a Pharaoh.

Firing automatic weapons in a prolonged fusillade, the attackers left 58 foreign tourists dead.

“They shot everyone in the arms and legs,” a surviving Swiss tourist, Rosemarie Dousse, told Swiss national radio. “Then they killed everyone who was still alive with a shot to the head.”

“They took all the young women, the girls, and disappeared with them,” Dousse said. “I don’t know where they went with the women, but they hurt them. We could hear screams of pain.” There was no official confirmation that young women had been singled out in this way, however.

The militants were also said to have been armed with knives, and there were reports by credible witnesses that they had seen corpses of several foreigners in which an ear or a nose was missing. These accounts, too, were not officially confirmed.

Tuesday, as some tourists began to leave Egypt in fear, others ventured to the temple in Luxor despite the chilling accounts. Those interviews and other details that have emerged in the last two days indicate that the slaughter was more vicious than was previously known, and that the militants seemed intent on making even more tourists their victims.

Egyptian authorities said Tuesday that the final death toll was 58 foreigners, rather than 60 as reported Monday, in addition to four Egyptians and six attackers. According to their governments, the dead included at least 35 Swiss, nine Japanese, six Britons, including a child, and four Germans. Others killed in the attack included a Bulgarian, a Colombian and a French citizen, the Egyptian authorities said.

By many of the accounts that emerged Tuesday, the attackers took advantage of a modest police presence and killed their victims in two clusters inside the grounds of the ancient temple.

A statement issued in the name of Egypt’s most prominent Islamic militant group said that the massacre had begun as an effort to take hostages in order to secure the release of a leader imprisoned in New York for his role in the World Trade Center bombing. But the accounts by survivors gave no hint of any attempts to take tourists alive - only to kill and, perhaps, to butcher them.

In an apparent acknowledgment of shortcomings, the Egyptian official responsible for internal security, Interior Minister Hassan al-Alfi, was reported Tuesday evening to have resigned.

President Hosni Mubarak, who visited the scene of the attack, told reporters that Egypt would now “take much more tougher measures” to secure the safety of its foreign visitors.

The attack began just before 8:45 a.m. when six men dressed in plain black clothing and carrying vinyl bags entered the temple through its main gate, ignoring guards’ request to produce their tickets. “This is the ticket,” the last of the men finally replied as he unsheathed an automatic weapon and opened fire, killing a police guard.

Ahmed Ghassam, 40, another guard, described the exchange. He, too, was shot, but in an interview from his hospital bed, he said he had survived because the body of the other guard had fallen on top of him.


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