Published leaflets add to confusion on killers' aims
Two days after the massacre in Luxor, mystery continues to surround the identity and motives of the attackers. Although Egypt's largest militant group, the Gama'a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group), admitted responsibility for the brutal attack on Monday, the events themselves and leaflets found at the scene, which were published in an opposition paper yesterday, seem to contradict the organisation's statement.
According to the Gama'a, one of its units tried to take prisoner the largest number of foreign tourists possible at one of the temples in Luxor. However, eyewitness accounts of the killings make it clear that the attackers had no intention of taking hostages. The Gama'a also claims that its aim was to use the hostages to secure the release of its spiritual leader, Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is in jail in the United States, and also to free other prisoners held in American and Egyptian jails.
By contrast the leaflets, signed by a group calling itself the "Brigade of Havoc and Destruction", make no mention of Abdel-Rahman and instead name Mustafa Hamza, a Gama'a leader thought to be living in Afghanistan. The leaflets also speak in terms of revenge for the death of a number of their comrades in police custody.
"We have seen our brothers kneeling in their [the regime's] prisons, and we have seen our families and our brothers being tortured in their prisons," they say.
"We will take revenge for our brothers whom the regime killed on the scaffold . . . All should know that our vendetta for our martyred brothers is not like any other vendetta and we shall see who among us is quicker at execution."
Criticism of government treatment of suspected militants has been a consistent theme of such attacks. Thousands of alleged members of Islamist groups and their sympathisers are thought to be in jail, many without trial. Human rights groups regularly report on extra-judicial killing and torture of political prisoners.
Critics charge that responding to militant attacks with such repression only contributes to the vicious cycle of violence, as seen at the Hatshepsut temple.
More puzzling, however, is the clear indication in the leaflets that Monday's attack was a suicide mission. "Death is better for us," read one passage. This is not a Gama'a hallmark. Another strange feature of the leaflets is an apology to the leadership for not carrying out a mysterious first operation.
Analysts and experts in Cairo are uncertain about what all this means. Some venture that the contradictory claims denote two groups competing for control over the organisation.
Others say that the killers were members of a splinter group on the run, brutalised by their isolation and rejecting in the most spectacular way possible the ceasefire their jailed leaders initiated last summer. Another scenario suggests they were from an altogether separate group that did not want to be identified.
What seems more likely is that Monday's carnage was related to two attacks on policemen earlier this month. One took place in the upper Egyptian province of Sohag, the other in adjoining Qena. In the first, a guerrilla was wounded by policemen and then killed by his comrade, as happened on Monday. As one of the attackers in this week's massacre was identified as coming from the Assiut governorate, further north, many suspect that the earlier attacks mark the group's progress south and were used to acquire police weapons.
But ultimately, whichever group carried out the attack, it has achieved its aims: the government has been badly embarrassed by the event; tourism has all but stopped; and Egypt is gripped by fear.