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Islamic Group Taunts Egyptian President After Massacre

November 21, 1997|JOHN DANISZEWSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CAIRO — The group that claims it massacred 58 foreign tourists this week mocked Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday, saying his shake-up of security services will not prevent further attacks.

But Gamaa al Islamiya, or Islamic Group, said in a statement faxed to a news agency that it will agree to a truce "for a while" if Mubarak's secular government accepts its demands--including stopping the campaign against Islamic Group members and breaking off relations with Israel.

The taunting communique came two days after Mubarak accepted the resignation of Interior Minister Hassan Alfi, upbraiding him and subordinates for failing to protect the ancient Temple of Hatshepsut, near Luxor, where Monday's massacre occurred.

Government spokesmen said they will not comment on the Islamic Group's demands, but the mood of authorities clearly was to redouble the fight against the radical Islamic movement that has undermined the country's tourist industry and raised questions as to whether the Arab world's largest country is vulnerable to renewed Islamic violence.

Police said Thursday that a note found in the wallet of one of the attackers said the operation had been ordered by an Islamic Group leader, Mustafa Hamza, who is believed to be in hiding in Afghanistan. Hamza is accused of masterminding an assassination attempt against Mubarak in 1995.

Mubarak held an emergency Cabinet meeting Thursday to discuss a draft security plan covering Egyptian tourist sites.

Habib Adli, the new interior minister, moved quickly to replace top Interior Ministry officials and security chiefs in Luxor, a Nile River city 310 miles south of Cairo visited by millions of tourists each year.

Hundreds of troops have been deployed to Luxor since the attack, but that has not stemmed a wave of cancellations of tourist bookings just before the normally busy winter season.

Six black-garbed gunmen killed two police officers and shot unarmed ticket-takers Monday while taking over the temple compound.

They then took their time--"dancing and singing" for an hour, one survivor said--as they slaughtered and mutilated helpless visitors from Switzerland, Japan, Germany, Britain and several other countries.

The six later died while being pursued by police and enraged villagers. Authorities say the extremists were killed by police in a running gun battle over desert hills, though some sources suggest that the assailants committed suicide.

The Islamic Group's statement said Mubarak should accept Islamic rule in Egypt, free political prisoners and secure the release from a U.S. prison of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the Islamic Group's spiritual leader, who was convicted in 1995 of conspiracy to blow up New York City landmarks.

This was the second statement from the Islamic Group since the massacre. On Tuesday, the group claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Tuesday statement portrayed the temple attack as a bid to take hostages to barter for the release of Rahman--an explanation at odds with statements from survivors, who said the attackers made no move to take prisoners.

Analysts in Egypt said they considered the assault an act of desperation as an increasing number of Islamic Group activists have been tried and convicted by special martial courts for a wave of violence that began in 1992 and has left more than 1,200 people dead.

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