A day after Israel told all citizens to leave the Sinai immediately, the US issued a travel warning to Americans to “take precautions in travel to the Sinai.” It warned that “overland travel from Israel to the Sinai in particular is strongly discouraged.”
The warnings came amid reports that Hamas on Thursday freed a Salafi leader of an al-Qaeda affiliated terror group. His group is believed to have close ties with terror cells currently operating in the Sinai.
Israel reportedly believes the terrorist, Abu Walid Al-Maqdisi, who was set free after some 17 months on Thursday, was the mastermind of three bombings in Dahab in Egypt’s SInai Peninsula that killed more than 20 people in 2006 and fears his release could lead to more such attacks.
Channel 2 News analyst Ehud Ya’ari said Friday that Hamas had released an individual who may carry out terror attacks in Sinai.
Al-Maqdisi, an Egyptian previously residing in Gaza whose real name is Hisham al-Saidni, is the head of Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, an Islamic extremist group that also is believed to have kidnapped, and killed, Italian peace activist Vittorio Arrigoni in Gaza in April 2011. The release of al-Maqdisi had been one of the conditions set forth by the terror group when it seized Arrigoni.
Gaza’s Hamas rulers had arrested al-Maqdisi in March 2011 for attempting to disrupt public order.
On Thursday, Israel’s Counterterrorism Bureau warned its citizens to leave Sinai immediately.
“We possess information that Gaza terror groups and others are planning attacks on Israeli tourists in the immediate future,” the government agency said in a statement.
Based on intelligence collected by the bureau, terrorists belonging to global Jihad organizations and Palestinian terror groups plan to kill or abduct Israeli tourists and will target beaches and resorts known to be favored by them.
The travel warning instructed Israelis planning to travel to Sinai not to go — and called on families to make immediate contact with relatives who are currently there to try to bring them back to Israel.
According to Channel 2 News, there are currently several hundred Israelis vacationing in the Sinai, most of them Arab Israelis.
Israel has issued travel advisories for Sinai before. But the security warnings and travel notices have increased since Hosni Mubarak was toppled in 2011 and amid rising lawlessness among Bedouin tribes.
Egyptian officials dismissed the Israeli warning on Friday, claiming it was concocted by Israeli tourism companies in an effort to scare Israelis out of Egyptian hotels and draw them to Israeli ones.
An unnamed Egyptian official told the German news agency that the Sinai Peninsula was under the control of Egyptian authorities and that there are no terrorists operating there.
The Dahab bombings took place on April 24, 2006, at a restaurant, a cafe and a market. A reported 23 people were killed — mainly Egyptians, but also a German, Lebanese, Russian, Swiss, and a Hungarian. Dozens were injured, including Israeli, American and Palestinian tourists. The blasts were said to be suicide attacks, carried out by Bedouin, orchestrated by Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad.
The US warning, issued on Friday, noted: “There have been multiple kidnappings in the Sinai of U.S. citizens over the past four years, and kidnappings of foreign tourists in the Sinai have increased since January 2012. In May 2012, two U.S. citizens were kidnapped and released a day later; in July 2012, two U.S. citizens were kidnapped and released a few days later. While thus far all known foreign kidnap victims in 2012 have been released unharmed, the danger of overland travel in the Sinai is significant.
“Overland travel from Israel to the Sinai in particular is strongly discouraged,” it went on. “U.S. government personnel are currently prohibited from traveling to the Sinai, except by air to Sharm El Sheikh. Overland travel by U.S. government employees anywhere in the Sinai outside of Sharm El Sheikh is prohibited. U.S. citizens contemplating travel to Sinai should be aware of the risks.”