Luxor massacre group offers Mubarak `truce'

 

Egypt's main Islamic militant group yesterday offered a conditional truce after its massacre this week of 58 tourists in Luxor.

"The al-Gama'a al-Islamiya [Islamic Group] could halt its military operations for a while if the Egyptian regime acts likewise and stops its unjust campaigns against the sons of the Gama'a, releases its prisoners, returns Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman to his homeland . . . and cuts relations with the Zionist entity," it said in a statement sent to international media.

Gama'a claimed responsibility for Monday's carnage in Luxor in which at least six militants ran amok at Hatshepsut temple, shooting and knifing to death 58 tourists. Four Egyptians, as well as the attackers, were also killed.

"O Mubarak, removing Alfi is not enough," the statement was headlined, referring to President Hosni Mubarak's sacking of the Interior Minister, Mr Hassan elAlfi. "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."

Mr Mubarak has appointed the Prime Minister, Mr Kamal Ganzouri, to lead a special committee to review security at Egypt's tourist sites. Extra police and troops have already been deployed at the sites and security tightened at top hotels.

The bodies of five German tourists were flown to Frankfurt yesterday; many of the other dead, including Swiss, Japanese, British, Colombian and Bulgarian nationals, have already been flown home. The 35 Swiss nationals killed in the massacre will be given a state funeral next week, a government minister said yesterday.

The Gama'a claim for the Luxor attack said the aim had been to take tourists hostage to trade for the group's spiritual leader, Sheikh Abdel-Rahman, a blind cleric serving a life sentence in the US for conspiring to blow up New York landmarks.

"For 10 whole years the Egyptian regime has waged a vicious war in its attempt to uproot the Gama'a al-Islamiya from the hearts of its people and sons. Each time the Egyptian regime failed in this confrontation, the result is the removal of an interior minister," the new statement, dated Wednesday, said.

Egyptian businessmen, actors, academics, students and diplomats marched from embassy to embassy across Cairo to pay an emotional homage to those killed at Luxor. "The attack is not the true nature of the Egyptian people," the group of around 100 people chanted.

Egypt stands to lose in the region of $1 billion in revenue after the massacre, economic commentators said yesterday. But tourism officials, although reeling under waves of cancellations, were hopeful that the industry would recover soon and that long-term damage would be limited.

Mr Munir Wissa, sales head at Egypt's largest tourism group Travco, said his company had received cancellations of more than 80 per cent of its tours for the rest of November. But he said: "We are not closing down the country because of this."

Mr Max Maurer-Loeffler, general director of Cairo's Nile Hilton, said the fallout from the attack "will not be long-lasting. I would say two or three months at the most," although those are the top months of Egypt's winter season.

He added: "The day after the attack I got a call from a major American company saying they wanted to send a group of 200 tourists to Egypt in July next year. I was so astonished, I asked him if he had the right country."