An explosion has struck a tourist bus in Egypt's Sinai near the Israeli border. At least four people have been killed and 24 injured, the country’s Interior Ministry said.
The bomb was either placed under the driver’s seat or fixed to the underside of the bus and detonated by remote control as the vehicle neared the crossing into Israel.
The Egyptian Interior Ministry has confirmed that three of those killed were South Korean tourists and the fourth was the bus driver, an Egyptian citizen. Some sources allege that the bomb could have been detonated by a suicide bomber, who became the fifth victim of the blast.
Police in neighboring Israel said they heard an explosion from the Egyptian side of the Taba border crossing. Around two dozen Israeli ambulances and police cars were dispatched to the crossing after the blast, but the Egyptian authorities allegedly refused Israel’s offers of assistance, Times of Israel reports
"There is a small smoke cloud near the [border] fence, about 50 meters south of the border crossing," Ynetnews cited an eyewitness as saying.
— Dalia Lachine (@DLachine) February 16, 2014
The incident which occurred less than a mile from Taba in Sinai has been confirmed as a terror attack, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Initial reports on where the bus was heading to with a group of 35 people on board were conflicting.
According to one media report, South Korean tourists were returning to Taba after an excursion to neighboring Israel. The explosion occurred after the bus, which belonged to Egypt's leading travel agency, Travco, passed through Taba’s checkpoint.
According to the other, voiced by Egypt’s Interior Ministry, the bus was traveling from the historic St. Catherine's Greek Orthodox monastery in central Sinai back to Israel, where the tourists were staying.
No Israelis on tourist bus after explosion took place in Egypt near Taba crossing. Emergency units on standby at Taba crossing Israeli side.
— Micky Rosenfeld (@MickyRosenfeld) February 16, 2014
Following the attack, the road and nearby highway between Taba and South Sinai resorts have been closed to traffic. Mobile and internet connection in Taba was switched off.
The small Egyptian town of Taba, a Red Sea resort, is popular among both Israeli and foreign tourists.
The attack is the first time tourists have been specifically targeted by militants since army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted Egypt’s elected president, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, in July 2013. Due to political instability in Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula has become a largely lawless area for jihadists. The region is still undergoing severe instability with almost daily attacks. Since July, Al Qaeda-inspired Islamist militants have tended to focus their attacks on security forces.
Taba has been the scene of attacks before. One of the deadliest took place in 2004, when 34 people were killed and 160 injured in the Taba Hilton hotel bombing.