On September 18, 1997, the two brothers attacked a
bus outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo leaving nine German tourist and
their Egyptian driver dead. Not a novice slayer, Saber was incarcerated
in a mental hospital for killing two Americans and a Frenchman at a
Cairo hotel in 1993. In light of the bus rampage closely following his
release from custody, three doctors, two nurses and six other hospital
staffers are are being tried for negligence and accepting bribes.
Saber and his brother Mahmoud were charged with
premeditated murder and attempting to harm the Egyptian economy through
the use of violence. "This was a heinous crime against Egypt, the land
of civilization ... the land of safety," military prosecutor Col.
Mohammed Abdel Aziz el-Sheik said during their trial. In no uncertain
terms Col. Aziz called for death by hanging for the lethal siblings.
Saber initially said that he launched the attack to
avenge a cartoon drawn by a Jewish woman in Israel that depicted Islam's
Prophet Mohammed as a pig. During their trial Saber repeatedly stated --
as if trying to justify deadly attack -- that they only meant to target
Egyptian officials have insisted the attack was not
linked to Islamic militants. Saber has said he lacked the contacts to
join the militants, but sympathized with them. Seven other people are on
trial on charges of selling arms and ammunition to the brothers. Saber,
a failed pop musician, said his father paid the head of Egypt's mental
institutions $14,700 to have him certified mentally ill so that he could
escape the death penalty in that case. The official, Sayed el-Qut, has
been arrested and is on trial for bribery.
On October 29, 1997, an Egyptian military court
sentenced to death the two brothers for the fire-bombing of the tourist
bus. The brothers chanted, "God is great!" after a judge read the
verdict in the heavily guarded courtroom. Minutes later, Saber said "Jews,
Jews, the army of Mohammed is coming back!" Six of seven co-defendants
were found guilty on lesser charges of involvement in the attack, and
sentenced to terms ranging from one year to 10 years in prison at hard
10 killed in Cairo terrorist attack
September 18, 1997
Three men in white shirts and ties calmly walked up to a tourist bus
outside the Egyptian Museum on Thursday, pulled weapons from a black
plastic bag and unleashed a furious attack that killed 10 people, at
least seven of them German tourists.
Egyptian security sources said all who died were in
the bus parked near the Egyptian Museum at Tahrir Square, one of Cairo's
"It was like 'gunfight at the OK Corral,'" said
Australian tourist Fabian Muir. "Totally out of control. It went on for
like 20 minutes. It seemed to go on forever."
"It was horrible," said Mohammed Fadl, an Egyptian
passerby. "There was black smoke coming out of the bus, and then it
burst into flames."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but
police described the gunmen as terrorists. The term has been used since
1992 to describe Muslim extremists seeking to overthrow the government
and turn Egypt into a fundamentalist Islamic state.
Police said they wounded and captured two of the
attackers. A third was arrested nearby as hundreds of panicked people
fled the area around the museum, which is famed for its rich gold
artifacts from the tomb of King Tut.
Officials deny tourists are targeted
Police said seven of the victims were German. Police could not confirm
the nationalities of the other three victims, but said they may have
been Egyptian employees of the company operating the tour bus. Six of
the dead were women and four men.
Nineteen people were wounded; eight were hospitalized.
Although Muslim militants have killed 26 non-Egyptians
and wounded 73 in attacks since 1992, officials tried to play down any
impact on the booming tourism industry. They said a "mentally deranged"
man and his brother -- not terrorists -- had staged the attack.
"We cannot attribute this to terrorist groups,"
Tourism Minister Mamdouh el-Beltagi said. "Tourism is not targeted and
tourists are not targets. This is not a political or terrorist act, but
a criminal one by a mentally deranged person and his brother."
The Interior Ministry identified "the deranged"
gunman as Saber Mohammed Farhat Abu el-Ulla. Also arrested was his
brother, Mahmoud. A third gunman, who was shot in the head, was
hospitalized in critical condition, authorities said.
The ministry said Saber Abu el-Ulla was put in a
mental hospital after he fired on tourists at a hotel in Cairo four
years ago, killing two Americans and a Frenchman. According to the
ministry's statement, Saber he escaped from a mental institution three
Attack 'avenges' insult to Mohammed?
But police officials who spoke on condition of
anonymity said Saber Abu el-Ulla was released after spending two years
in the institution. They said Saber Abu el-Ulla told interrogators he
carried out the attack to avenge the insult to Muslims by a Jewish woman
who distributed posters depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a pig in June
The pig incident was widely condemned in the Muslim
world, and by Israeli leaders as well.
The shooting Thursday came three days after a court
convicted 72 people of subversion in Egypt's largest trial of Islamic
extremists. Four of the defendants were sentenced to death and eight to
In the past, the extremists have attacked trains and
Nile River cruise boats and succeeded, for a time, in hurting Egypt's
lucrative tourist business. But a record 4 million tourists visited
Egypt last year, and officials were predicting more this year.
More than 30 German tourists were aboard the bus when
the attack came shortly after noon. The museum's front courtyard was
crowded and nearby Tahrir Square -- Cairo's main downtown square -- was
jammed with pedestrians and vehicles.
'The heads of the terrorists have been falling'
Mahmoud Hamdy, the driver of a nearby waiting bus,
said the attackers wore black pants, white shirts and ties and described
them as looking like typical Egyptian tourist agency employees.
Witnesses said the gunmen threw a firebomb under the bus and a second
one at the vehicle.
Authorities have repeatedly said that the Muslim
extremists have been all but wiped out, and the violence in recent
months has mostly been confined to battles in southern Egypt.
Interior Minister Hassan el-Alfy repeated that claim
in a speech Wednesday, saying, "The heads of the terrorists have been
falling, and nothing of them remains except a few fugitives."
More than 1,100 people have been killed during the
five years of violence, many of them police and extremists. But the
violence has also claimed tourists, government officials and minority
The two main militant groups are al-Gama'a al-Islamiya
(Islamic Group) and the Jihad (Holy Struggle). Al-Gama'a has attacked
tourists, Christians and police in the past, while the Jihad
concentrated on security and political figures.
Tourists return to Egyptian sites after attack
September 19, 1997
Under the watchful eye of tourism and security
officials, tourists returned to Egypt's museums and other sites Friday
in the wake of a deadly firebomb and rifle attack on tour buses outside
the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
"So far everything is calm," said Joe Michel,
operations manager of Seti First Travel. "I had two groups ... going to
the Egyptian Museum this morning."
Almost half a million tourists visited Egypt in
August -- the highest number ever for a single month -- and Egyptian
officials had expected the 1997 total to top last year's 4 million. How
Thursday's attack -- which left nine German tourists and an Egyptian
driver dead -- would affect tourism was anybody's guess.
"Egypt has been booming this year," said Michael
Friedrichs, a spokesman for Germany's largest tour group, TUI. "It is
hard to say at this point whether the boom will be ended by the attack.
A lot of people are certainly having second thoughts."
"The calls started coming in as soon as we opened,"
said Nils Rautenberg at Bonn's Opera travel agency. "One woman canceled
even though her trip wasn't until next April."
But some tour operators said they aren't seeing as
many second thoughts, at least this soon, as they saw in 1992 when
Islamic militants launched a concerted effort to topple Egypt's
government by attacking tourists.
"We have only had two cancellations out of 500
bookings, and they didn't give a reason," said Seti's Michel. "After the
attacks in 1992 we had almost 1,000 clients canceled after two hours."
Mursi Shehata of Spring Tours, which organized the
ill-fated German tour, said he expected "some individual cancellations,
but it is really going back to normal."
Several tours canceled planned trips into Cairo
Friday, however, choosing instead to remain outside the capital.
The German foreign ministry issued warnings to
travelers in Egypt, cautioning against travel on ships, buses and trains
in middle Egypt, to and through the middle of Egypt, south of Beni Suef
to Qena. It urged travelers to seek advice on travel to Hurguada, Luxor
British tourism officials and the British Foreign
Office warned travelers to be vigilant, as did the U.S. Department of
Egypt labeled the attack the work of a madman, not
organized terrorists. Police wounded and captured two men believed to
have participated in the attack. A third was wounded, but apparently
escaped. Police identified the suspects in custody as Saber Farhat Abu
el-Ulla, a failed pop singer, and his brother, Mahmoud.
An Egyptian state-owned newspaper quoted a government
official as saying police had set up checkpoints around the city of 16
million and intensified security at hotels and tourist sites, as a
result of the attack.
Egyptian bus assailants sentenced to death
October 30, 1997
Saber Abu elUlla and his brother Mahmoud Abu elUlla
had pleaded guilty to charges of premeditated murder, attacking tourists
and damaging the economy through violence and terrorism. They appeared
in court chatting and smiling as the verdict was read.
After the verdict was read, Saber Abu elUlla cried
out, God is great and dropped to the floor in prayer.
The September 18 shooting and firebombing of the
tourist bus took place outside the Egyptian Museum, which houses some of
the worlds greatest Pharaonic treasures. The attack wounded 26 people
and shook Egypts crucial tourist industry.
Seven other men had been charged with providing the
brothers with weapons used in the attack. Of these, one was sentenced to
10 years in jail with hard labor and five to prison terms ranging from
15 months to seven years. One man was acquitted.
At the start of the trial that began on October 14,
Saber Abu elUlla said his only regret was that the victims of the
September attack Cairo had not been Jews.
Saber Abu elUlla has said he espouses Islamist
ideology but was not a member of any of the Muslim militant groups that
have been waging a bloody campaign to topple the government.
Some of the groups have attacked tourists in an
effort to cripple the economy. In a statement earlier this month, the
largest group, the Islamic Group, hailed the mujahedeen brothers and
warned tourists not to come to Egypt.
Military court verdicts cannot be appealed, but
sentences can only be carried out after they have been approved by the
president as supreme commander of the armed forces.
After the attack, Saber Abu elUlla said that he
wanted to avenge a cartoon drawn by an Israeli woman that depicted
Islams Prophet Mohammed as a pig.
But in wideranging comments during the trial, he told
reporters from inside a steel cage set up in the courtroom that he
staged the attack to defend Islam and to punish Europe.
Before the museum attack, Saber Abu elUlla, a failed
pop musician, escaped or was freed from a mental asylum where he was
committed for killing two Americans and a Frenchman at a Cairo hotel in
He has told reporters that his father paid the head
of Egypts mental institutions 14,700 to get him certified mentally ill
so that he could escape the death penalty in the 1993 attack. The
official, Sayed elQut, has been arrested.
President Hosni Mubarak began to refer Islamist
militants to the speedy justice of military courts in 1992, ignoring
criticism from human rights groups. So far, 90 death sentences have been
issued and 57 carried out, all but two by hanging.
The September attack on a bus in Cairos crowded
Tahrir Square was the first on tourists since Islamic Group activists
shot dead 18 Greek tourists they mistook for Israelis in April 1996.
Nearly 1,100 people, including 34 nonEgyptians, have
been killed in a fiveyear armed campaign by Muslim militants to set up a
purist Islamic state in Egypt.
October 29, 1997 - Saber &
Mahmoud Farahat Abu el-Ulla - An Egyptian military court sentenced Saber
and Mahmoud Abu el-Ulla to death for a fiery attack that killed nine
German tourists and an a bus driver outside the Egyptian Museum in
Cairo. "God is great!" the brothers chanted after a judge read the
verdict in the heavily guarded courtroom.
December 29, 1997 - Saber &
Mahmoud Abu el-Ulla - Cairo President Hosni Mubarak ratified the death
sentences passed on Saber Abu el-Ulla and his brother Mahmoud for
killing nine German tourists and their Egyptian driver outside of the