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An Egyptian police officer stands guard on Feb. 17 next to wreckage of a bus that was targeted by a bomb in the Egyptian south Sinai resort town of Taba the day before. / Nameer Galal, AFP/Getty Images

CAIRO ‚?? The suicide bombing of a tourist bus in the Sinai Peninsula indicates that a growing Islamist insurgency is spreading to "soft" targets and may do more damage to Egypt's already struggling tourism industry.

The bomber boarded the bus as it stopped at an Egypt-Israel border crossing and an explosion immediately followed, killing three South Korean tourists and the Egyptian driver, the Interior Ministry said.

"It's a very bad blow to any efforts to re-attract tourists again," said Mazen Hassan, an assistant professor at Cairo University. "This will definitely affect ‚?? at least in the short term ‚?? the flow of tourists back to the country."

Over the past three years, many would-be tourists have stayed away from ongoing political unrest that began with the uprising against dictator Hosni Mubarak and since led to killings in Egypt's streets, ongoing protests and bomb blasts that as recently as last month hit the capital.

The tourism industry's decline led to a drop in foreign currency reserves and loss of jobs, while overall unrest led to investments plummeting.

Sunday's attack "adds to the problems that the Egyptian economy is facing in general, not just the tourism sector," Hassan said.

And it comes amid government attempts to restore political stability and security as it tries to put the country's economy back on track and bring back tourism and investment.

"This was a despicable act of cowardice directed at innocent tourists," said presidential spokesman Ehab Badawy, in a statement. "And let me be quite clear: The perpetrators will find no hiding place and we will not rest until we have brought all those who planned, funded and carried out this atrocity to justice."

Egypt has been home to attacks on tourists before. In 1997, militants massacred 62 people ‚?? most of them tourists ‚?? at the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor. A string of bomb attacks hit resort areas in the Sinai Peninsula in the mid-2000s, leaving more than 140 dead. But Sunday's blast was the first attack on tourists in the Sinai in almost 10 years.

"Even though we haven't seen this kind of thing in a long time I think it's the logical next step," said Anna Boyd, a senior Middle East analyst at IHS, in London. "I don't think this is totally unexpected."

Attacks by suspected militants have increased in frequency and breadth since the overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last August. Before his ouster, attacks were limited to police and security targets primarily in the northern Sinai Peninsula, which shares a border with Israel and the Gaza Strip. Since last summer, attacks have spread to mainland Egypt.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, an al-Qaeda inspired group, has taken credit for many assaults including an attempted assassination of the interior minister in Cairo last September. Last month, the group claimed responsibility for four bomb blasts that tore through the capital, killing half a dozen Egyptians.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the deadly weekend blast. But regardless of who the perpetrators are, there is an emerging pattern of attacks not only on government and security forces but also on infrastructure seen to support the state, which includes sources of revenue such as the tourism industry, Boyd said.

"It's worrying because it's so widespread now," Boyd said. "What I mean by that is that after the toppling of Morsi, you really saw quite a quick evolution in the locations of terrorist attacks."

Over the past seven months, Egyptian authorities have thrown thousands of Islamists in jail in what they claim is part of a crackdown on terrorism. Critics say most arrests are politically driven and seek to quell voices of dissent. The government is particularly focused on crushing the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood has condemned the attack and extended condolences to those affected.

"It is sad to note that the military-backed authorities have, once again, failed to uphold their duty of protection and care towards visitors and Egyptian citizens alike," said a statement by the Brotherhood's London press office.

"The Muslim Brotherhood deplores all forms of violence and demand that the perpetrators of this heinous crime are brought to justice," it said.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Suicide bombing in Sinai hurts tourism industry

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