Egypt sentences 9 to life for failed attack on temple tourists

CAIRO (AFP) - An Egypt military court has sentenced nine Egyptians to life in prison for their involvement in a failed attack on tourists at a famous pharaonic temple, army officials said Thursday (Dec 17).

Two others were also sentenced to seven years in jail on Wednesday for the attack, which prosecutors say was carried out by members of the Egyptian affiliate of the militant Islamic State group.

On June 10, at least three heavily armed men riding in a taxi made their way past a security checkpoint into the parking lot of the Karnak temple in Luxor, southern Egypt.

The taxi driver grew suspicious and alerted the police, saying they spoke in Arabic and used some French words.

Surveillance footage shows that, when police approached the men, the assailants pulled assault rifles from their bags and opened fire on nearby cars as tourists disembarked from buses.

One of them killed himself by setting off an explosive vest he was wearing, while police killed an accomplice and seriously wounded another.

Sixty bullet holes were found on a bus, a source close to the investigation said.

More than 600 tourists were present in the temple at the time of the attack.

Twelve men were referred to a military trial for their involvement in the attack, but one defendant died in custody, army officials said.

Those sentenced on Wednesday were Egyptians, while prosecutors have previously said that the two men who were killed during the attack were foreigners.

Prosecutors say the assailants had been recruited by the Egyptian affiliate of ISIS, which is spearheading an insurgency against security forces in the Sinai Peninsula.

The group also claimed the October 31 downing of a Russian airliner over Sinai by stowing a bomb on board.

The downing of the plane - which killed all 224 mostly Russian tourists on board - has dealt a body blow to Egypt's tourism sector, a cornerstone of its already dilapidated economy.

It has also raised questions over Egypt's ability to provide security at its airports, especially after it said it had boosted security at tourist spots following the Karnak attack.

Cairo says it still has no evidence that the plane was downed by a "terrorist" attack, but Russian investigators say it was a bomb that destroyed the aircraft.

Militants have carried out regular attacks in Egypt since the army overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

They say their attacks are in retaliation for a government crackdown against Morsi's supporters that has left hundreds dead and thousands imprisoned.