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Cairo blast: Explosion targets tourist bus outside Egypt museum

Cairo blast: Explosion targets tourist bus outside Egypt museum

At least 16 people, nearly half of them South African tourists, were injured Sunday when a roadside bomb hit their bus as it travelled past the under-construction Grand Egyptian Museum near the Great Pyramids of Giza, according to security officials, in the second such attack in that general area since December.

“We were working at the [museum] site and we heard a big blast,” builder Sayed Alaa told The National, describing how he rushed to take water and bandages for the injured. “There was an old female foreigner who was bleeding from her head, and one Egyptian was screaming from the pain when the glass pierced his hands.”

Another witness, agriculture ministry employee Zaki Mohamady, said the bus kept moving for at least 10 metres after the bomb detonated. “The bus was in the middle of the road. If it had been closer to the right side of the road, it would have been worse.”

At least seven of the blast victims were tourists from South Africa and at least four more were Egyptians, the officials said. There were no serious injuries, they added.

A statement from South Africa‘s Directorate of International Relations and International Co-operation said its diplomatic staff in Egypt were visiting hospitals to check on injured citizens, but did not give any casualty figures.

Tourism Minister Rania Al Mashat said there were 28 people aboard the bus, without giving their nationalities. There were minor injuries among them and three were being treated in hospital “as a precaution”, she said in a tweet.

The bomb, apparently planted near the outer fence of the museum, damaged the right side of the coach, shattering its windows. Another car with four Egyptians inside also was damaged, said the officials. Small holes could be seen across the bus’ metal panelling.

Photographs posted online showed ambulances attending to the wounded, a damaged bus, and tourists with their hands on their heads or holding onto their bags as they disembarked from the bus.

Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry said the museum, which is scheduled to open next year, was not damaged. The blast occurred 50 metres from its outer fence and more than 400m from the museum building, it said.

The location of the blast near Giza in Egypt.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which bore the hallmarks of the Islamic militants fighting security forces in a years-long insurgency led by ISIS and epicentered in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Sunday’s blast comes five months after a roadside bomb hit a tourist bus in roughly the same area, killing three Vietnamese tourists and their Egyptian guide and injuring at least 10 more people.

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Besides the museum and the Pyramids, the general area where the attack took place includes the historical Saqqara site, home to smaller pyramids and Pharaonic tombs. Although heavily policed, it has also seen several drive-by shooting or ambushes of policemen manning checkpoints or travelling in pickup trucks. Some of the villages also are known to be strongholds of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that was outlawed by Egypt in 2013 and later declared a terrorist organisation.

The latest attack comes at a time when Egypt’s vital tourism sector was showing signs of recovery following a years-long slump after the 2011 popular uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.

The sector suffered a major blow in 2015 when a charter flight carrying Russian tourists home from Red Sea resorts on the Sinai Peninsula crashed soon after take-off. ISIS said the crash was caused by a bomb it had planted on the aircraft.

Tourist arrivals recovered to reach 8.3 million in 2017, up from 5.3 million the previous year, according to the national statistics agency. But the numbers are still far below the record of more than 14 million visitors in 2010.

Besides building the new museum at Giza, Egypt has unveiled a series of archaeological finds and tightened security at airports and tourist sites in an attempt to draw more visitors.

Updated: May 20, 2019 04:06 AM