The federation of Egyptian tourism agencies has compensated the families of three out of eight Mexican tourists who were “mistakenly” killed by security forces last year, officials said on Monday.
“The families of three of the victims have each received a bank transfer worth $140,000,” Ahmed Ibrahim, treasurer of the Egyptian Travel Agents Association told AFP.
The payment was made following an agreement reached last week between the Mexican families and the tourist federation that legal charges would not be filed against Egypt.
“Negotiations are underway with the other five families in order to close the case definitively,” Ibrahim said.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid confirmed that an agreement has been reached with the three families.
Ibrahim added that the federation of Egyptian tourism agencies agreed to compensate the families after an investigation into the incident had been carried out and concluded that the federation was responsible for the Mexicans’ death.
Eight Mexican tourists and four Egyptian guides died after Egyptian security forces opened fire on four SUVs that were navigating the Western Desert on their way to Bahariya oasis in September last year. The tourist convoy was bombed from air by military helicopters and aircraft. It was one of the deadliest attacks on foreign tourists in Egypt in years.
Egypt’s Ministry of Interior said that military and police forces had been conducting security operations in El-Wahat (Western Oasis) in the Western Desert. After opening fire, security forces discovered that the four vehicles were civilian. The vehicles had, according to the interior ministry, been in an area prohibited to civilians due to the dangerous security situation.
The Egyptian government did not publicly apologize for the attack but put the blame on the travel company that organized the trip.
In January, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu commented on the incident, saying that “the administrative authorities and the travel agency should have had more clarity on the permit and in that sense would eventually be responsible.”
Susana Calderon, a survivor of the deadly attack, told Mexican newspaper El Universal that the group of tourists and guides had been bombed around five times over a period of three hours. “We were bombed some five times, always from the air,” Calderon revealed while laying in her hospital bed. “It all lasted some three hours.”
“The landscapes are beautiful, but there is nothing else. Nowhere to take shelter, nowhere to run,” she added. “God wanted me to know what real fear feels like.”
Commenting on the payments to the Mexican families, Elhamy ElZayat, chairman of Egypt’s tourism federation, said that they should not be considered “an admission of guilt” by the Egyptian government but rather an attempt to get Egypt’s ailing tourism industry on its feet again, the New York Times reported.
“We need the tourists to come back. We are doing this for the country,” ElZayat said.
The tourism industry is vital for Egypt’s economy as it constitutes a key source of hard currency for the government.
Violence has plagued Egypt’s North Sinai since the ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013.
An estimated 2100 people were killed in North Sinai in 2015, including roughly 1800 described by the military as “terrorists,” 150 civilians, 40 police officers and conscripts, and 140 military personnel.
The year 2016 has seen a rise in both attacks and counterterrorism operations, with more than 230 militants killed since the start of the year.