CAIRO — A bomb blast ripped through a bus packed with tourists Sunday, killing at least four people near Egypt's border with Israel, security officials said, in an attack that threatened to damage the tourist economies of both countries.
Three South Korean tourists and the Egyptian bus driver were killed, according to a statement from Egypt's Interior Ministry. No one has claimed responsibility, but several Israeli security experts said the location of the attack suggests it was directed at least in part at Israel.
"I think that the terrorists have chosen their target very meticulously," said one security expert, Yoram Meital, chairman of the Herzog Center for Middle East Studies at Israel's Ben-Gurion University. "They're trying to kill two birds with one stone."
He said the bombing could put further strain on tourism in Egypt, where it is one of the few sources of foreign revenue.
The tourists, believed to be Christians who had come to the Middle East to visit holy sites, left Cairo on Sunday morning. They had just visited St. Catherine's Greek Orthodox monastery and were waiting on the bus near the Taba border crossing with Israel when a bomb exploded. It was not immediately clear whether it was planted on the bus or was a car bomb.
St. Catherine's is at the foot of Mt. Sinai, where the Bible says Moses received the Ten Commandments.
Medical crews and police from both sides of the border responded. There were conflicting reports about whether some of the victims had been taken to a hospital in the Israeli resort town of Eilat, about six miles away.
Egypt's presidential spokesman, Ehab Badawy, called the attack "a despicable act of cowardice directed at innocent tourists." He added, "We will not rest until we have brought all those who planned, funded and carried out this atrocity to justice."
Security officials have not named suspects in the attack, but Aviv Oreg, a security consultant and former intelligence officer for the Israel Defense Forces, said he believes it was carried out by Ansar Bayt al Maqdis, or the Partisans of Jerusalem, an Al Qaeda-linked group operating in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, which has become increasingly unstable since Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in 2011.
Ansar Bayt al Maqdis claimed responsibility for a string of deadly car bombings in Cairo in January timed to the anniversary of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. The group also said it was responsible for a rocket attack on Eilat this month. Nobody was injured in that attack.
New Israeli security measures, including last year's completion of a barrier along the border with Egypt, have made it difficult for terrorist groups to enter the country, Oreg said.
"Of course," he said, "they will do whatever they can to get new modus operandi to attack."
Special correspondent Hassan reported from Cairo and Times staff writer Linthicum from Jerusalem.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times