November 21, 1997 in Nation/World

Egyptian Rebels Taunt Mubarak Group Claiming Attack Demands Severing Ties With Israel

John Daniszewski Los Angeles Times
 

The group that claims it massacred 58 foreign tourists this week mocked Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday, saying his shake-up of security services will not prevent further attacks.

But Gamaa al-Islamiya, or Islamic Group, said in a statement faxed to a news agency that it would agree to a truce “for a while” if Mubarak’s secular government accepts demands - including stopping its campaign gainst Gamaa members and breaking off relations with Israel.

The communique came two days after Mubarak accepted the resignation of Interior Minister Hassan Alfi, upbraiding him and subordinates for failing to protect the ancient Hatshepsut Temple near Luxor, where Monday’s massacre occurred.

“Oh, Mubarak, removing Alfi is not enough,” the statement was headlined, continuing, “A movement that leads a people cannot be defeated. The policy of removing ministers and replacing them with others cannot solve the problem of the Egyptian regime.”

Government spokesmen said they would not comment on the Gamaa demands, but the mood of authorities clearly was to redouble the fight against the radical Islamic group that has undermined the country’s lucrative tourist industry and raised questions as to whether the Arab world’s largest country is vulnerable to renewed Islamic violence.

Mubarak held an emergency Cabinet meeting Thursday to discuss a draft security plan covering Egyptian tourist sites. Habib Adli, the new interior minister, moved quickly, meantime, to replace top Interior Ministry officials and security chiefs in Luxor, a Nile River city 310 miles from Cairo visited by millions of tourists each year.

Hundreds of troops have been deployed in Luxor since the attack, but it has not deterred a wave of cancellations of tourist bookings just before the normally busy winter season. The Gamma attack was the worst terrorist assault in modern Egypt’s history and seemed to mark a new chapter in terms of ferocity and sheer violence.

Six black-garbed gunmen killed two police and shot unarmed ticket-takers Monday morning to take over the temple compound. They then took their time - “dancing and singing,” one survivor said - as they slaughtered and mutilated for an hour helpless visitors from Switzerland, Japan, Germany, Britain and several other countries. The six later died while being pursued by police and enraged villagers. Authorities say the extremists were killed by police in a running gun battle over desert hills, though some sources suggest the assailants committed suicide.

Gamaa’s statement said Mubarak should accept Islamic rule in Egypt, free political prisoners and secure the release from a U.S. prison of Omar Abdel-Rahman, Gamaa’s spiritual leader. The fiery cleric was convicted in 1995 of conspiracy to blow up New York City landmarks.

This was the second statement from Gamaa since the massacre. On Tuesday, the group claimed responsibility for the attack and praised its “courageous” fighters. That statement portrayed the temple attack as a bid to take hostages to barter for the release of Rahman - an explanation at odds with statements from survivors, who said the attackers made no move to take prisoners.


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