Egypt says no one hurt in attack by hotel near Giza Pyramids

AP News
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Posted: Jan 07, 2016 2:14 PM

CAIRO (AP) — An attacker fired birdshot at an Egyptian security post outside a hotel near the Giza Pyramids on Thursday morning, the Interior Ministry said.

The ministry said no one was hurt in the incident at the Three Pyramids Hotel, but the attack damaged the hotel's facade and also a bus parked in front of the building.

According to a ministry statement, the shooter was part of a group of about 15 people who threw flares at the hotel's security post. A suspect was arrested and police were still searching for the rest of the group, the statement said. It did not identify the arrested suspect.

The motive for the attack was unclear and no one immediately claimed responsibility for it. However, a witness at the scene indicated the attack was more organized than the ministry described and that deadly weapons were used.

"The first thing they fired was flares, and then they started firing at the bus. Later they started firing birdshot at the hotel and tried to throw Molotov cocktails at the bus," said Jaber Jabarin, an Arab Israeli citizen who was staying at the hotel and witnessed the attack.

After throwing Molotov cocktails, Jabarin said the attackers "started firing at the hotel with live bullets." He described heavy, continuous gunfire.

His account and the ministry's statement could not be immediately reconciled but Egyptian authorities often downplay attacks. For example, authorities have said they found no evidence that a terror bombing brought down a Russian passenger plane in the Sinai Peninsula last October. The local Islamic State affiliate has claimed it downed the aircraft with a bomb. All 224 people on board were killed in the crash, mostly Russian tourists.

In Jerusalem, Alon Lavi, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said the bus that was hit on Thursday was in use by a group of visiting Arab Israelis but that no one was inside the bus at the time of the incident and that no Israelis were hurt. He said Israel was briefed on the incident by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry.

The attack came as Egyptian's Coptic Orthodox Christians were celebrating the Orthodox Christmas in predominantly Muslim Egypt. Most Orthodox Christians follow the older, Julian calendar and celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7. In Egypt, thousands of policemen were deployed across Cairo and other cities to protect churches and Christian celebrations.

The Egyptian government has for years been battling an insurgency by Islamic militants in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula. Attacks on security forces there have significantly escalated after the military overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. There have also been attacks in the mainland.

Thursday's incident and its proximity to the Giza Pyramids — Egypt's top tourist attraction — could further impact the tourism sector, already decimated in the aftermath of the Russian plane crash.

Also Thursday, militants in the northern Sinai city of el-Arish blew up a gas pipeline that supplies the city and a nearby industrial military complex, Egyptian security officials said.

There were no casualties in the explosion, the officials added, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Gas pipeline attacks were common in Sinai before Morsi's rise to power.

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Associated Press writer Daniel Estrin contributed to this report from Jerusalem.