Reporting by Ruth Rilinger
After the attack on three tourists in Hurghada on Friday evening, motives of the two attackers remain unclear. Two young men had stormed the hotel Bella Vista in downtown Hurghada through the restaurant at 7:30 p.m. and stabbed one young Swedish man and an elderly Austrian couple with a knife. Security personnel and the police shot one man dead and wounded the other. According to official sources, the three victims are doing well.
In a press conference held at the hotel yesterday, Minister of Tourism Hisham Zaazou said that the attack was an “individual act” which “does not belong to any organisation”.
Despite the claims communicated in earlier reports of the incident, the attackers did not have a flag of the Islamic State with them, the Minister said in a statement to Egyptian Streets. However, he clarified that one of the attackers was wearing a fake suicide vest made out of plastic, but no explosives were found.
“I came down from my room when I heard loud voices and thought it might be a fist fight. People were running away in panic,” 50-year-old Michael G. from Oldenburg, Germany, an eyewitness to the shooting, told Egyptian Streets. “When I came to the lobby, I saw two men standing in the lobby; one was wearing a suicide vest and holding a gun, and the other one had a knife and was holding the black and white IS flag and shouting ‘Allahu Akhbar.'”
Three Norwegian tourists, who were in their rooms at the time of the attack, also asserted hearing loud shouting of “Allahu Akbar” besides the gunshots.
“Although the attacker had raised his pistol, no gunshot was fired from him,” recalls Michael, narrating how the security guard shot at the attacker who was holding the gun. According to reports by the police and hotel management, the gun that was found was fake and made out of plastic.
However, the witness describes the moments before the arrival of the police as a “weird” situation that left him with a sense of security in Egypt despite being in the middle of a “terrorist” attack.
“While the three security guys outside were just standing there and did not really react, and the general manager of the hotel was trying to convince the attackers to give up, approximately 15 kitchen staff members came to the area and started throwing ashtrays and chairs at the attackers.”
Afterwards, policemen with machine guns arrived at the scene and shot one attacker dead while the other one was left wounded, the witness adds.
“I am really impressed at how the hotel staff risked their lives for us tourists. Many put themselves in danger to protect us,” he said.
Although he saw the assailants holding the IS flag, he doubts that they were affiliated to the terrorist organization. “In contrast to what IS does, this was a Kinder Garten act. I think they just used the image of fear.”
Other tourists who were having dinner and got evacuated also praised the calm and immediate reaction of the hotel staff. Claudia Unkelbach from Frankfurt, Germany, said that although she feared for her life, she is not afraid of coming back to Egypt. “We felt taken care of the whole time; the hotel staff reacted very fast and calm.”
Unkelbach was having dinner when she heard the gunshot sounds and was then evacuated through the back entrance of the kitchen to the boats.
“The situation was very threatening; many were crying and we were told to stay down on the boat. But there was always someone from the hotel staff with us. They took really good care of us,” says Unkelbach.
Other tourists said they were still shaken from the incident or had left the hotel. A young couple said that although they feel safe now and that they will continue their vacation, they wanted to switch hotels, because every loud sound reminded them of the previous night’s attack.
However, not all tourists were left with a similar sense of security. Two sisters, aged 16 and 22 from Berlin, said all they wanted was to go back home. Others who planned to come to Egypt in March already cancelled their trip, said an expat living in Hurghada.
“There remains a feeling of uncertainty now; you just don’t know what will happen next,” said Brigitte Glockner, who has been living in Egypt for a year and a half.
The hotel’s resident manager and director of sales Khaled Fahmy told Egyptian Streets that he believes the attack is “an attempt to spread a propaganda of fear” and to “affect tourism in Egypt badly”. The hotel posted a statement yesterday calling the attackers “two drugged young men” and published pictures with the victims in the hospital stating that they are recovering.
Still shaken up from the aftermath of the Russian plane crash in Sinai in October 2015, it is feared that the tourism industry will suffer another plunge. Furthermore, a group of Arab-Israelis were also attacked whilst on their tourist bus on Thursday in Al-Haram in Giza.