LAST WEEK’S terrorist attacks, which killed 24 people and injured up to 100 others at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Dahab, showed that Islamic militants are continuing to target pro-western Middle East states.
Initial reports suggested that most of the fatalities were Egyptian and Israeli tourists. Among the wounded were three Danes, three Britons, two Italians, two Germans, two French, a South Korean, a Lebanese, a Palestinian, an American, an Israeli and an Australian. The attacks came just one day after Osama bin Laden said all western citizens were legitimate targets because they supported their governments’ “Zionist crusader-war against Islam”, and at a time when many tourists were staying at Red Sea resorts for the Easter holidays.
Tourist industry targeted
The bombers’ primary aim was to disrupt the lucrative Egyptian holiday industry that draws six billion euros every year, employing 10 per cent of the country’s workforce. Just last year, 850,000 Britons alone travelled to Egypt, apparently undeterred by Foreign Office warnings about terrorist threats. But visitor numbers are now likely to fall in the wake of the latest atrocity that follows a series of bombings in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
In October 2004, the resorts of Taba and Ras Shitan were bombed, killing 34 people – mostly Israelis – and wounding more than 100 others. In April 2005, there were several attacks in Cairo. Then, last July, simultaneous bombings targeted the popular Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing 64 people.
Assassination attempts on Mubarak
Most terrorism experts suspect Al-Qaeda of being behind the latest attacks because bombing hotels and resorts has been a hallmark of its operations. In addition, Al-Qaeda is, in many ways, an offshoot of Egyptian extremist groups. Many of its key figures are, or were, Egyptians, including bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the late Muhammad Atef, as well as Mohammed Atta, the leader of the September 11 hijackers.
Another threat to Egypt comes from a new generation of homegrown militants, the successors to the groups who waged a bloody insurgency in Upper Egypt during the mid-1990s. Then there is another source of potential terrorism coming from Egyptian fanatics who travelled to Iraq and fought with the rebellion before they returned home.
Egypt has always been a prominent target because its government recognises Israel and pursues friendly relations with the West. Egypt’s former President, Anwar Sadat, paid for this friendship with his life when he was assassinated in 1981 by militants, just three years after he had made peace with Israel at Camp David. His successor, Hosni Mubarak, has survived six assassination attempts and has made repeated attempts to clamp down on militant groups with varying degrees of success.
Clash of civilisations
If bin Laden was behind the latest atrocities, it’s just another attempt to further the clash of civilisations he seeks. Every action has a reaction. The bombings trigger renewed determination on the part of Western governments to confront and eradicate Islamic militants. And organisations like Hamas will face further sanctions and international isolation unless they renounce violence. This, in turn, creates more anger in the Arab and Islamic world where people already resent the West for its perceived bias in supporting Israel. Any attack on Iran, irrespective of its justification, would, of course, only heighten anti-Western feeling and increase the number of potential martyrs.
We cannot talk to Al-Qaeda in the same way we have talked to other terrorist organisations in the past. Neither can we delude ourselves into thinking that a reversal of the West’s pro-Zionist stance would be sufficient to quell the anger. Bin Laden’s tape also described the situation in Iraq and Sudan’s troubled Darfur region as further evidence that an anti-Islamic crusade was being waged. Neither can we remove ourselves from Al-Qaeda’s sights by electing governments that oppose military operations in Islamic countries.
In Britain and America, all the mainstream parties supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. So the future would seem to comprise an endless trajectory of tit for tat violence. In the 21st century, it seems we have all become legitimate targets for the terrorists.