by Austin Bay
July 26, 2005
Call it the terrorists' War on Tourism -- a war waged by jihadists that long predates 9-11, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Last week's terror attacks on Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh resorts left nearly 90 dead. The attacks also sent an economic and political shockwave throughout the rest of Egypt.
Jihadist terrorists wage a war to create and maintain poverty. In Egypt, damaging the tourist industry does just that. Tourists climbing the Pyramids, sailing on the Nile and sipping coffee in Cairo are a source of very good jobs.
In 1992, the jihadists launched an "insurrection" against the Egyptian government, and the tourist industry was an immediate target. Since 1992, there have been at least 15 major attacks on tourists -- an advertising campaign of high explosive and bullets designed to undermine the Egyptian economy.
For example, in 1993, jihadists targeted Cairo's Tahrir Square, killing a Swede, a Turk and an Egyptian. Eighteen were injured. In 1997, six terrorists massacred 58 foreign tourists (many of them Germans) and four Egyptians in an attack at Luxor's Temple of Hatshepsut. Islamist extremists argue that "pagan" temples desecrate Muslim lands, so if the jihadists ever take power in Egypt, Luxor might be razed. Don't laugh -- the Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan.
Here's a sketch of the terrorists' counter-tourism strategy: Attacks on foreign visitors guarantee instant international headlines, especially in the visitors' home nations. All terrorist attacks are designed to sow doubt in the local government's ability to protect lives, property and businesses, but the tourist industry is a very international industry and attacking it is an easy way to discourage international investment.
These attacks also isolate and impoverish individuals who work in tourist industries -- people who tend to be multilingual and aware that "foreigners aren't devils."
Jihadist assaults on tourists aren't confined to the Middle East. The October 2002 Bali nightclub terror blasts killed 202 people. Suddenly, Bali's hotels were empty and thousands of Indonesians were without paychecks. Jemaah Islamiya -- Al Qaeda's Southeast Asian "subsidiary" -- took credit for that attack.
A year later, Jemaah Islamiya detonated a car bomb outside Jakarta's Marriott Hotel and killed 12 people. Abu Sayyaf -- another Al Qaeda affiliate -- has kidnapped tourists visiting the Philippines and Malaysia. Terror attacks launched against visitors in predominantly Muslim countries, however, aren't solely aimed at bikini-clad Swedes skin-diving in the Red Sea or Germans examining Egyptian ruins. Jihadists also slaughter Muslim pilgrims, when it suits their political and media interests.
A pilgrim is a religious visitor, and in the Middle East pilgrims are big business -- just ask your travel agent.
In November 1979, Islamist terrorists belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood attacked Mecca's Grand Mosque. The terrorists planned to launch a religious-based revolt against the Saudi government. Even if it failed to ignite a popular revolution, the 1979 attack had an information objective: It would demonstrate Saudi weakness by sending the message that the Saud regime wasn't capable of protecting Mecca and other Muslim holy sites.
There is some evidence that a relative of Osama bin Laden helped organize the 1979 Mecca attack. The attack didn't start a revolt, but it did produce a bitter siege. Several Middle Eastern political analysts say the Saudis' ultimate counter-attack was a reasonably successful military operation, but a political disaster.
The Saudis know pilgrims matter. When Al Qaeda set off bombs in Riyadh in November 2003, the Saudis reinforced Mecca with 5,000 soldiers and police to protect the 2.5 million Muslims visiting during Ramadan.
Subsequently, the Saudis discovered an Al Qaeda cell in Mecca. Two of the terrorists blew themselves up to evade capture. Saudi police feared the terrorists were planning to attack a festival celebrating the end of Ramadan.
The jihadists are at war with Muslims and with Muslim countries. Their war, with Muslim pilgrims as pawns, began before the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan and long before the United States invaded Iraq. This past Sunday, 1,000 Egyptians in Sharm el-Sheikh demonstrated against terrorism. The Christian Science Monitor reported the demonstrators chanted: "There is no God but God; terrorism is the enemy of God."