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Gunmen Fire on Spanish Tourists in Egypt, Killing Boy Instantly

By John Lancaster
The Washington Post

Gunmen fired on a bus carrying 11 Spanish tourists in southern Egypt Friday, killing a 14-year-old boy and breaking a lull in anti-foreigner violence by Islamic militants seeking to topple the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The attack heightened security concerns surrounding the arrival here next month of 20,000 foreign dignitaries, activists and journalists for a U.N. conference on population and development. In recent weeks, government officials have been touting what they portrayed as a victory over Islamic extremists - a five-month period without attacks - and tourism had been showing signs of recovery.

Pablo Usan, 14, died instantly in the attack, which also wounded his father, another Spanish tourist and an Egyptian tour guide, according to Pablo Gevenois, charge d'affaires at the Spanish Embassy in Cairo. The tourists, traveling under police escort, were driving through a rural part of the Nile River valley about 280 miles south of Cairo to visit Pharoanic ruins. Usan was from Valencia.

The Spanish youth was the fifth tourist killed in attacks by Muslim extremists on tour buses, trains and Nile cruise boats that began in late 1992. The militants have used the attacks to bring pressure on the Egyptian government, which relies on tourism for jobs and hard currency.

The militants also have planted bombs outside Cairo banks, whose practice of charging interest they regard as contrary to Islam, and waged a violent campaign against police in southern Egypt that has claimed several hundred lives.

The government has cracked down harshly, hanging five militants in Cairo this week for a failed attempt to kill the interior minister. There had not been a lethal attack on a foreigner since March, when gunfire raked a cruise boat and killed a German woman. Attacks on police have diminished, and Cairo has been calm.

Last month, Interior Minister Hassan Alfie all but declared victory over the militants, telling reporters, "We have managed to encircle them and put an end to the acts of violence," according to news accounts.

Tourism Minister Mamdouh Beltagui sounded a similar theme in an interview earlier this week, saying of the militant campaign that "it's over now" and refusing to entertain questions on the subject. Beltagui said the success of the government's efforts is borne out by tourism statistics for the month of July, which show a 12 percent increase in European visitors over the same period last year.

The Spanish tourists left the city of Luxor Friday morning by cruise boat, floated downriver for five hours to Qena, then boarded a bus for a 40-minute drive to Abydos, site of some of the oldest Pharoanic temples and burial sites in Egypt, according to a travel executive familiar with their itinerary.

Gunmen hiding in sugar cane fields opened fire on the Spaniards' vehicle as it passed near the village of Nag Hammadi at about 10:45 a.m., according to a brief statement from the Interior Ministry. The dead boy's father, Leopoldo, was wounded in the chest and the other Spanish tourist, Julio Ponce, was hit in the leg, according to the embassy account. The wounded victims were flown by helicopter to a hospital in the Cairo suburb of Maadi, according to the embassy.