On this day: the Luxor massacre

November 17 1997: Islamic extremists murder nearly 60 tourists in Egypt

By Jennifer Lipman, November 17, 2010

They were there simply to visit one of Egypt’s archaeological treasures, the temple of Hatshepsut in the southern town of Luxor.

But the visit became a nightmare as six men, armed with firearms and knives, fired on them.

For 45 minutes the tourists were trapped inside the temple while their assailants systematically murdered them. They ten hijacked a bus but were stopped by a police shootout, in which three Egyptian tour guides died.

In total, 58 holidaymakers were killed in the attack, including five-year-old girl from Britain, four honeymooning Japanese couples, and 36 Swiss people. Several others were wounded. A British tourist who hid in a tomb for three hours to escape the violence told the JC: “We could hear shots being fired all around us. There was a lot of panic and people crying.”

A Norwood charity bikeride through Egypt, which had been in the area just hours before, was cut short out of security fears.

Although one militant attempted to blame Israel for the killings, Al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, an Egyptian Islamic extremist group backed by al Qaeda, was held responsible for the attack.

The massacre damaged the Egyptian economy as tourism declined in the immediate aftermath. But it also influenced Egyptian public opinion, with many citizens demanding retribution. The terrorist group eventually agreed to a ceasefire in 1999.

What the JC said: Words like “obscene” or “vile’ cannot convey the extent of the crime, nor the depth of the tragedy — a tragedy shared by all faiths, all nations, who value human life and abhor those who dress up murder as an act of politics. Nothing an individual can say, or a government can do, is capable of lessening the loss of the relatives of those who were killed. But what we can do is recognise the imperative to identify, and renounce, acts of terror for what they are and to support actions...aimed at denying the murders their financial and political lifeblood.

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Last updated: 9:37am, November 17 2010