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Out There News

Egyptian group warns tourists at risk

By Paul Eedle 

CAIRO, Sept 30, Reuter - A Moslem militant group in Egypt said on Wednesday foreign tourists should not visit Luxor, site of some of the country's most famous Pharaonic temples and tombs, because of clashes between militants and police. 

A spokesman for el-Gama'a el-Islamiya (the Islamic Group) confirmed to reporters that the organisation's section in the province of Qena, where Luxor is located, had issued a statement warning foreign embassies to keep their citizens out of the area. He spoke on condition he not be named. 

"The statement does not threaten," he said. "Anyone who reads it carefully will find that it simply warns embassies that the ruling regime has prevented the preaching of God's word in Qena, closed mosques and arrested Moslem young men. In view of continuing clashes between the regime and el-Gama'a el-Islamiya, foreign embassies should not send their people to Luxor and Qena," he told a handful of reporters invited by the Gama'a to a cramped apartment in a dusty Cairo slum. 

Violence involving Moslem militants has surged this year and more than 60 people have been killed, most of them either militants or members of the security forces. But there have been only two minor incidents involving tourists in Luxor, one in June when two home-made bombs exploded in a temple and the other in August when a petrol bomb was thrown at a tour bus. No tourists were injured in either attack. 

When the Qena statement was first sent to a foreign news agency late last month, some diplomats doubted it was genuine as Moslem militants have never deliberately disrupted tourism. The industry is vital to Egypt. About three million tourists will have visited the country by the end of this year, earning $3 billion for a people struggling against poverty and unemployment. 

"The ruling regime has started a campaign to close mosques, prevent meetings, stop Friday prayers, arrest Moslem young men and take their relatives hostage...while it provides protection, luxury and facilities for people called tourists," the spokesman said. "Tourists are having sex in the streets and parks of Luxor and drinking alcohol...As a Moslem, I have to defend my land, my mosque and my preaching and to do that I have to stop the debaucheries and provocations." 

He added: "El-Gama'a el-Islamiya has nothing against tourists as people and cannot accept any tourist being killed or attacked as a person. "But the ruling regime is demolishing my mosque and my house and building hotels and providing luxury buses for tourists. I have to put a stop to these hotels and buses." 

The Egyptian government has used thousands of internal security troops to restore calm in southern villages near the university town of Assiut and has detained large numbers of suspected Gama'a members. The spokesman said about 80 per cent of Gama'a members, around 1,500 people, were currently in prison. 

The Gama'a emerged in Egypt's universities in the 1970s under the influence of the mainstream Moslem Brotherhood but gradually broke away because it rejected the Brotherhood's willingness to work within the political system. 

REUTER NEWS SERVICE