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Column 092815 Wall

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mexican Tourists Perish in Tragic Attack in Western Egypt

By Allan Wall

In a tragic attack in western Egypt, on September 13th, 2015, a group of Mexican tourists and their guides were attacked by Egyptian security forces, leaving 12 dead and ten wounded. 

The tourist party, traveling in a convoy in the desert of western Egypt, was composed of 14 Mexicans (12 from Jalisco, one from Guanajuato and one from the Federal District), and eight Egyptian tourism personnel.

The tourist party of 22 (both guides and tourists) was traveling near the Bahariya oasis, in  a convoy of four SUV 4 X 4 vehicles.  They pulled off the road to have a cookout.

Suddenly they were shelled from above by aircraft, a combined force of Egyptian police and military aircraft, including Apache helicopters.  Those who survived and fled were attacked from above, or possibly by forces on the ground.

In the first few days reports coming out of Egypt were contradictory, but the death toll was finally verified as being 12 dead (eight Mexicans and four Egyptians) and ten wounded (six Mexicans and four Egyptians). 

That means that every single person in the convoy, both Mexican and Egyptian, was killed or wounded.

What was the cause of this attack?

Like Mexico, Egypt is waging a war in its own territory. In Mexico’s case it’s against the drug cartels, whereas in Egypt it’s against Islamic insurgents, presumably linked to the Islamic State.

The security forces in western Egypt were in pursuit of insurgents when they mistook the tourist convoy for a convoy of insurgents, as the  tourist convoy’s vehicles resembled those of the insurgents.

So were the tourists legally authorized to be in that sector?

The Egyptian government claims the tourist convoy was in an off-limits zone where they should not have been.  According to Elhamy Elzayat, chairman of Egypt’s tourism federation, "The area is a restricted area, and the company made a mistake by taking the tourists to that area without a permit. They must obtain a permit before going there."

On the other hand, Hassan al-Nahla, head of the Egyptian union of tour guides, says exactly the opposite, that they had received the necessary permits and had  even started their trip from Cairo with a police escort.  In fact, the group’s permit was circulated on the internet.

It seems highly unlikely that Egyptian security forces would intentionally attack foreign tourists.  What incentive would they have to do so?  After all, tourism is an important source of revenue to Egypt.

I assume this was an accident on the part of the security forces.  As an accidental attack on civilians, it bears resemblance to what the U.S. military calls “friendly fire,” a grim euphemism for accidental attacks by a military on its own forces or those of its allies.  It does occur from time to time.

I served in Iraq with the U.S. Army ten years ago.  For four months of that deployment, I was assigned as a liaison to the Italian Army (Esercito), in order to prevent friendly fire incidents between the Italians and the Americans.  Such incidents are indeed an ongoing danger for military forces operating over large areas.

Survivors of the September 13th Egypt attack report that they were bombed about five times during a period of three hours.  If the 3-hour period is correct, that raises more questions.

If the security forces had the firepower to wipe out their targets (believing them to be insurgents), why didn’t they do so immediately?  Why drag it out over three hours?  How is it that they never noticed nor received word during that 3-hour period that they were attacking tourists?

It seems like some horrible incompetence was at work there.  But it’s impossible to know without more inside information, which will probably not be forthcoming from the Egyptian government.

The Egyptian military has been criticized for killing Egyptian civilians in the Sinai Peninsula, where it’s also fighting insurgents.  It’s quite likely that they just aren’t very careful, which leads to tragic consequences.

Besides the tragic loss of life, this attack by government forces on Mexican tourists and Egyptian guides, and the  killings of foreigners by insurgents, certainly cannot help Egypt’s tourist industry.  Tourism in Egypt from 2010 to 2014 had already declined from nearly 15 million visitors in 2010 to 10 million in 2014.

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Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at http://www.allanwall.info.

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