The Egyptian Ministry of Interior said that a group of tourists who were killed by Egyptian security forces on September 13 had been in a prohibited area without special permits when the fatal attack occurred.  Egyptian tourism official Rasha al-Ayazi claimed, in a report on Egypt’s state-controlled Middle East News Agency that the tourists did not have the correct permits.  In a statement on September 14, the Egyptian tourism ministry confirmed that a tourist jeep convoy that had stopped at the Bahariya Oasis area of the Western Desert was assaulted “by mistake” by the Egyptian army while it was “chasing terrorist elements.” In the attack, at least 12 persons were killed and 10 others were wounded. At least two persons have been identified as citizens of Mexico. In initial reports, the Egyptian government did not give an exact breakdown of the dead and wounded, saying that "the incident led to the death of 12 Mexicans and Egyptians and wounding of 10 others." The Egyptian government statement claimed, "The area they were in was off limits to foreign tourists." 
 
Egyptian government sources say that 56 police and soldiers have been killed fighting Islamic State terrorists
 
Enrique Peña Nieto, the president of Mexico, is calling for an inquiry. Writing on his Facebook page, the Mexican leader said “Mexico condemns these acts against our citizens and has demanded that the government of Egypt conducts a thorough investigation into what happened,” adding, “I deeply regret that our citizens lost their lives.” There have been no reports of American casualties.
 
According to an official government statement, Egyptian forces were in pursuit of Muslim militants when they attacked the four-vehicle tourist convoy. The Mexican Foreign Ministry says that the tourists were killed under circumstances “that are not yet clear.” 
 
In a report in El Mundo, a Spanish daily, it was said that the doomed tourists were eating dinner at a rest stop in an unrestricted area when the attack occurred. The paper was quoting the tour operator that had organized the trip. However, the name of the tour company was not published by El Mundo. However, the paper quoted a tour company employee as saying that the group came under fire from Egyptian air force planes. The Egyptian interior ministry did not confirm whether the tourists died under small-arms fire or aerial bombardment.
 
The tourists’ death came on the same day that Islamic State forces claimed to have had a firefight with Egyptian forces nearby in the Western Desert. That region is a huge and sparsely populated place that extends to the border with Libya. On September 13, IS circulated a statement on the web that showed its troops with vehicle-mounted heavy weapons with desert backgrounds. IS claims to have chased away the retreating Egyptians. In August, IS beheaded a young Croatian worker in Egypt. In July, IS claimed to have detonated a bomb outside the consulate of Italy.
 
Home to a number of oases, the Western Desert has long drawn foreign and domestic tourism. Since the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, tourism has dropped precipitously. And in July 2014, Islamist militants killed more than 20 Egyptian troops at a checkpoint in the Farafra oasis in the Western Desert. Islamist violence had been focused on the Sinai Peninsula. However, since the fall of President Mohammed Morsi in 2013 in a coup d’etat, terrorism has been increasingly evident as attacks have become bolder during the summer months of 2015. The border with Libya is vast and largely unprotected, thus affording opportunities for terrorist infiltration. Last week, Egypt claimed to have killed 56 terrorists in recent fighting. So far, the death tolls have not been independently confirmed, and have not made an appreciable effect on the insurgency. Hundreds of Egyptian troops and police have been killed.
 
Mexican Ambassador Jorge Alvarez Fuentes has visited survivors at the Dar al-Fouad Hospital in a Cairo suburb. The Mexican government says they are in stable condition. In a statement on the webpage of its embassy in Cairo, the Mexican government offered advice to Mexican nationals seeking to travel to Egypt. "Egypt is going through a complex process of political and social changes; it also faces challenges to achieving full internal and regional stability. Therefore, here follow some practical recommendations for Mexicans who are considering or who have plans to travel to or visit Mexicans." It called on Mexican nationals to respect Egyptian authorities, and to avoid political activities and protests. In addition, the government recommended that citizens should avoid unnecessary travel by automobile or public transit in the interior of the country, especially at night. Moreover, it called on Mexicans to completely avoid all travel by road to the north of the Sinai Peninsula, which "continues to endure incidents of attacks and political violence for which terrorist organizations have claimed responsibility." The foreign minister of Mexico is to give a press conference during the morning hours of September 14. 
 
Mexican Ambassor Jorge Alvarez Fuentes visited the wounded in a Cairo hospital
 
Tourism has long been a mainstay for Egypt. The Islamic State’s effective economic warfare has made a dent in the country’s economy. In 2014, 10 million tourists visited. This is a significant downturn, since in 2010 almost 15 million people visited the country to see its famed archaeological sites and Red Sea resorts.

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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