South Korean tourists whose bus was targeted in Sunday’s bombing attack in Egypt had saved for years to visit biblical sites in honor of their church’s 60th anniversary, church officials told the Associated Press.
Three Koreans were killed along with the Egyptian driver of their tour bus in the Sinai Peninsula where government forces are battling Islamist militants.
Among the passengers were 31 parishioners from Jincheon Jungang Presbyterian Church, south of the capital Seoul, who were headed from Egypt to Israel when the attack occurred, church curate Choe Gyu-seob told the AP.
The daughter of one of those killed told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, “My mother was a devout Christian … I don’t know how such a thing could happen. I don’t know how to react to this.”
“We never imagined such a thing could happen. We are shocked and miserable,” an unnamed parishioner told the AP.
The Israeli news site Walla posted this video which it reported was taken from a security camera on the Israeli side of the border and captured the moment the massive explosion occurred and sent billowing smoke into the sky.
Egyptian and Israeli media reported that the tour group had just visited St. Catherine’s Monastery which is situated at the foot of Mount Sinai and was headed to the Taba border to cross from Egypt into Israel.
Britain’s Daily Telegraph characterized the attack as marking “a dramatic shift” in the Islamist militants’ “campaign against the Egyptian regime, which to date has targeted the military and police.”
The insurgent group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack.
Years ago, Islamist militants targeted tourists, including a 2004 bombing of hotels in the Taba Red Sea resort area in which 34 people were killed. More recently, however, Al Qaeda-linked and other hardline Sinai-based Muslim militants have focused their deadly attacks on Egyptian security forces, Egyptian Christians and attacks over the border into Israel.
The weekend event could further negatively impact the Egyptian tourist industry, which was already severely hit after the Arab Spring revolutions and the ongoing violence.
The Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement from its London office saying it “strongly condemns in the strongest possible terms the cowardly attack on a tourist bus.”
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At the same time, it asserted that the attack was a result of the military’s negligence.
“It is sad to note that the military backed authorities have, once again, failed to uphold their duty of protection and care towards visitors and Egyptian citizens alike,” the Brotherhood said.
Deposed Muslim Brotherhood-linked President Mohammed Morsi on Sunday appeared in court facing terrorism charges. It’s unclear as of yet if the attack was a response to his trial.