South Korean priest Kim Dong-hwan (right) and his wife receive treatment at a hospital in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday, after being injured in an explosion of a tourist bus on the Sinai Peninsula. (Yonhap)
The explosion took place at about 9:20 p.m., Korean time, in a border town of Taba as 35 people including two Egyptian assistants were crossing into Israel.
The attack came amid growing Islamist insurgency since the July ouster of President Mohammed Morsi.
Army Radio and other Israeli media quoted the militant organization’s statement on a Twitter that they “will continue to hurt the leaders in Egypt, the economy, the tourism and the gas.”
The Sinai-based group, whose name means Champions of Jerusalem, began operation after the January 2011 uprising that led to the fall of former ruler Hosni Mubarak. They claimed a series of attacks on Israeli targets and Egyptian army and police, most recently on the police headquarters in Cairo on Jan. 24.
Sunday’s blast killed the two Korean guides, a female tourist and an Egyptian driver, a senior official at Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said. Another 14 Koreans were taken to hospitals for minor injuries, while the remainder stayed at a hotel in Israel.
“A man presumably in his 20s hurled a bomb at the vehicle when one of the Korean guides returned to the bus after the departure procedure,” the official told reporters on customary condition of anonymity, quoting consuls there who interviewed survivors.
It remains unclear whether the attack was premeditated and targeted Koreans, the official said.
“We ought to wait for the exact account of the incident until Egyptian authorities completed their probe,” he added.
Egyptian police said later in the day that they believe a suicide bomber was behind the blast.
The victims are members of a church in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, and had been on a 12-day, three-nation pilgrimage since Feb. 10, according to church officials. Sinai is a popular tourist destination housing St. Catherine’s Monastery.
The attack is expected to take a further toll on Egypt’s tourism industry, which has been suffering from civil unrest triggered by an uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The Korean government called the blast an act of terror.
“We cannot repress anger and astonishment over the bombing attack on the tour bus carrying our citizens, and strongly condemn it,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young said.
“We will actively join the international community in their efforts to fight terrorism in line with our firm position that terror can by no means be justified and must be eradicated as a crime against humanity.”
Shortly after the incident, the ministry dispatched several diplomats, consuls and other officials to the scene from Seoul, Cairo and Jerusalem, and issued a special travel warning for the area.
The U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued separate statements calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice and conveying condolences to the families of the victims.
“The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attack,” it said.
“(We) reaffirmed that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security, and that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed.”
Scores of travelers from home and abroad were killed between 2004 and 2006 during a string of bombings in south Sinai. But Sunday’s attack appeared to be the first against tourists since Morsi’s overthrow.
The Islamist leader’s downfall has also prompted rallies and bloody clashes between his supporters and Egyptian policemen.
Though the military-installed government accuses Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood of masterminding past attacks, the deadliest ones have been claimed by the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis.
That organization was also responsible for downing a military chopper in the peninsula last month.
By Shin Hyon-hee (email@example.com)