Jihadist attack at Red Sea resort points to elevated risk of attacks against foreigners in response to recent Islamic State losses
A 29 year-old Egyptian male citizen stabbed to death two German tourists, and wounded four other European holidaymakers, at two hotels in the mainland Red Sea resort of Hurghada on 14 July. The attacker was eventually restrained by hotel staff before being arrested, and is reported to have told those who apprehended him that he was “not after Egyptians”. No group has claimed responsibility at present.
A similar attack occurred at a different hotel in Hurghada early last year, when two men armed with knives wounded three European tourists (see our 20 January 2016 Report). That attack was also unclaimed, and we assessed that it was likely conducted by an Islamic State (IS) sympathiser, rather than being directly coordinated by IS’s Egyptian affiliate Ansar Jerusalem (AJ), which now operates under the name Sinai Province.
Given the lack of claim for the latest attack, and its low-level nature, this was likely also carried out by an IS sympathiser. Indeed, IS’s leader in Sinai specifically called for violence against tourists in an interview in IS’s online newspaper al-Naba in late 2016 (see our 4 January Report), and the attacker may have been influenced by this. The Iraqi Army’s capture of Mosul, the largest city held by IS, which was announced by the Iraqi Prime Minister on 10 July, may also have provided a trigger for the attack, given Western involvement in the anti-IS military coalition.
The risk of further violence will remain elevated in the coming months, especially as IS will suffer further territorial loses, with the prospective fall of Raqqa being a notable likely trigger. In addition to sympathiser violence, AJ or its mainland affiliate, whose Emir has called for attacks against “Christians” (see our 17 May Report), could also directly organise attacks on foreigners, as part of ongoing efforts to win increased hardline Islamist and Salafist support and to take symbolic revenge for the loss of Mosul. Although jihadist violence will remain largely focused against Copts, IS and its affiliates have demonstrated significant capabilities during the last year in Cairo, Alexandria and the Nile Delta, as well as in the South, as shown by the killing of 29 Copts in the Minya Province on 26 May. A mass-casualty strike against tourists could therefore include targeting hotels in the capital or touristic sites in Cairo or the Nile Valley. That said, increased security in central Cairo and Red Sea resorts will limit the potential for large-scale attacks there.
Moreover, this attack alone will likely have significant ramifications for the wider Egyptian economy. Tourist numbers, which fell significantly in late 2015, had been steadily increasing over recent months, and were reported to have shown a 33% year-on-year rise in May, after several European countries had lifted travel restrictions in February, bringing vital foreign currency and boosting employment. This attack will however limit and perhaps reverse this recovery. This will undermine Cairo’s ability to undertake planned economic reforms, raising the potential for longer-term socio-economic unrest. The potential for instability will rise if further such attacks on tourists take place.