12 January 2016, Hurghada, Egypt

14 January, 2016 Hotel Attacks

On 9 January, two terrorists armed with knives and reportedly a pellet gun attacked the Bella Vista Hotel and Resort in Hurghada, Egypt, reports the BBC. The Bella Vista is a three-star, beachfront hotel on the Red Sea.

Hotel staff told the Associated Press that the terrorists approached the Bella Vista from the beach and a hotel next door. They had with them, says The Independent, a prominently displayed ISIS flag and an apparent explosive device, though it is not readily clear if it was real or fake. The BBC says the duo was intent on kidnapping people.

The terrorists managed to injure two Austrians and a Swedish citizen, Sammie Olovvson. Olovvson told the press he was sitting having dinner with his father when he felt someone grab him from behind and then plunge a knife into his upper left chest. He raised his hands to defend himself, and the attacker then began to stab at the back of Olovvson’s neck. He stood up, trying to break free from the attack, and the terrorists started yelling at hotel guests to get on the floor. Olovvson found himself on the floor, fearing he’d bleed to death.

After the restaurant attack, the terrorists made for the hotel lobby. Hotel staff said the suicide bomber (or fake suicide bomber) of the two had put a knife to a woman’s neck and was dragging her along when police burst in and shot him dead. Photos of the deceased show what appear to be leg and hip wounds, and possibly a head wound (distorted via pixilation.)

The second terrorist appears to have been shot in the leg and hip, and video of authorities questioning him at the scene is here – be warned, it is graphic footage.

Hotel guest Zainab Feili said of the attack, “Everybody just ran…we heard shooting. Everybody was crying. It was awful.”

As the terrorists met their end, Olovvson managed to flee the hotel. A passer by took him to a hospital where he received life saving treatment.

Of the two injured Austrians, one left the hospital with minor injuries, and the other remained for more serious treatment.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, authorities closed all roads leading into Hurghada, and security forces deployed throughout the town. The Independent reports that hotel managers said the two attackers were simply drug-crazed kids with no links to ISIS.

This hotel attack follows several others that have happened in Egypt as of late. One happened just days before at the Three Pyramids Hotel on 7 January in Giza, Cairo. ISIS claimed responsibility for it, saying it was part of its campaign to kill Jews. Before this, on 24 November 2015, ISIS attacked the Swiss Inn Resort in El Arish, Egypt’s Sinai.

There are several observations to note here. First, from what is known about the actions of the attackers, it seems the operation was a bit sloppy because they did not maintain control of the hotel and its patrons. Heavily armed attackers, as demonstrated by the Radisson Blu attack in Mali and the Imperial Marhaba attack in Tunisia, did not have this problem.

Second, it was, on the other hand, an organized attack that showed at least some level of planning as evidenced by, 1) their infiltration route, 2) the fake or real bomb they had (there are photos of it,) and 3) the pellet gun that they brought along. The latter two were likely used to scare hotel patrons into being more cooperative.

Third, regardless of the haphazard execution of the attack, it was terrifying and heinous enough to grab sensational headlines and spread terror amongst the hotel staff and patrons. In the same vein, by their knife attacks, the attackers demonstrated ruthlessness and showed no regard for human life.

Fourth, the response time of the Egyptian police was excellent. They managed to arrive at the hotel within about three minutes and thirty seconds of the initiation of the attack. It is not clear if hotel security and staff alerted them, or if there were officers nearby, and they simply responded to the chaos. For certain, however, the Egyptian police decisively stopped the attack. If hotel security had been armed, and there is no indication that they were, then the attack could have been stopped even sooner.

Fifth, while the hotel properly corrected sensational press stories saying that the attack was much more damaging than it actually was, the hotel also made efforts to downplay the bloody nature of the onslaught and its ISIS linkages. The fact that the terrorists were waving an ISIS flag says they were indeed part of this group. How so?

Joining ISIS does not require a membership card or formal recruitment into some kind of military unit unless it is in places such as Syria or Iraq where ISIS has standing armies. Otherwise, individuals can answer ISIS’ call by verbally declaring allegiance amongst colleagues, or by doing so on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. Then they can carry out individual attacks on targets designated by ISIS via social media.

Attackers’ connections to ISIS can also be made during an attack, which is what appears to have happened in this case.

In Egypt, ISIS had told followers to attack hotels, tourist spots, popular civilian gathering places, anywhere that Jews gather, transport nodes, and the police. The attack on the Bella Vista, then, fits ISIS’ operational methodology.

Since there have been so many Islamist jihadist attacks in Egypt in the past 12 months – many of them carried out by ISIS – no hotel or government official wants to advertise the fact that the country is facing an irregular war, part of which involves a terror campaign, which will weaken Egypt’s tourism sector. (Actually, this war started in fall 2013 before ISIS became a prominent threat there.)

Tourism contributes $5-7 billion a year to Egypt’s economy, but terror attacks in 2015 caused tourism to drop by 38%. Admitting that ISIS had a hand in the attack on the Bella Vista will further erode tourism confidence in Egypt. It is the truth however, and the truth, if acted on, can save lives.

Sources and further reading:

Egypt’s tourist numbers drop 38pct in November year-on-year following Russian plane crash,” Ahram online, 11 January 2016.

Egypt attack: Three tourists stabbed at Hurghada hotel,” BBC, 9 January 2016.

Egypt hotel attack: Hurghada resort blames ‘drugged young men’ and calls Isis rumours ‘nonsense’,” The Independent, 9 January 2016.

Egypt hotel attack: ‘Isis flag raised’ by men who stabbed tourists at Bella Vista hotel in Hurghada,” The Independent, 9 January 2016.

2 Austrians, 1 Swede wounded in attack in Egyptian resort,” AP, 8 January 2016.

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