London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egyptian Islamist militant group Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis warned on Tuesday all foreign tourists to leave the country by February, saying it will attack any that remain, according to news agency reports.
Reuters reported on Tuesday that the warning was issued in English on a Twitter account associated with the group, which is based in Egypt’s unstable Sinai peninsula, a region that has seen frequent attacks against civilian targets and the Egyptian security forces since the downfall of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
“We recommend tourists to get out safely before the expiry of the deadline,” the warning said.
It comes only a day after Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on a tourist bus in the Sinai on Sunday that killed three South Koreans and an Egyptian driver.
The group published a declaration that said Sunday’s attack was “part of our economic war attacking this traitorous hireling regime, which has plundered the nation’s wealth.”
However, the same declaration denied that the group had an official presence on social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook, casting doubt on the latest warning, though the Twitter feed that carried the warning is reported as having been accurate in the past.
The decision to target tourists may represent a change of tactics for the group, which has launched a string of attacks on Egyptian military and police, especially since the downfall of Muslim Brotherhood-backed president Mohamed Mursi after military-backed mass protests last summer.
Last month, the group claimed to have shot down an Egyptian military helicopter. Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis has also claimed responsibility for the assassination of a number of senior security officers.
Egypt’s tourism industry, previously a major employer and earner of hard currency, has languished in the doldrums since the ousting of Mubarak in 2011 and the political instability that has plagued the country since then.
A fresh round of attacks on tourist targets is likely to raise fears of a return to the widespread violence of the 1990s, which saw a number of attacks on tourists, including a gun attack at a Luxor temple complex in 1997 in which more than 60 people were killed.