Luxor, 20 Years Since Birth Of Modern Jihadism

In the gruesome attack in Egypt on Nov. 17, 1997, three key elements came together that have driven Islamic terrorism over the past two decades.

A 2010 photo of Luxor
A 2010 photo of Luxor
Antonia Kleikamp

The murderers arrived in a bus on a Monday in November: six young men, groomed and freshly shaven, wearing police uniforms. All six were carrying heavy sports bags. Still, they slipped past through three security checkpoints on the bus. Then, on foot, the group made its way to the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. No one asked to see their identification; the guards just assumed they were security personnel. But in those sports bags were Kalashnikovs and knives.

On that November day, exactly 20 years ago, fundamentalist-Islamic violence — as we know it today — began.

The six had prepared well, and knew that many tourists came to the temple on Monday mornings. Tourist groups from around the world were in the main gallery shortly after 9 a.m., listening to guides recounting the temple's history, there in the Valley of the Kings, the tomb of the New Kingdom pharaohs.

It was around 9:15 a.m. when the six men ripped open their bags, grabbed their automatic weapons and fired into the crowd. "They took us in the middle, 200 to 300 tourists. No one should have survived," described a shaken witness after the attack. "I saw people whose bodies were torn open by bullets." Most victims died in the first two to three minutes: visitors from Japan, Switzerland, Great Britain, France. When police and soldiers from the security checkpoints in front of the temple returned fire, the terrorists withdrew into the temple to continue the onslaught, partly with daggers and machetes.

A guide, who sustained minor injuries, recalled: "The terrorists fortified themselves behind the columns. Many tourists were suddenly caught in the crossfire. Members of a local militia came down from the mountain and fired into the valley. It was indescribable chaos." In front of the temple lay the injured, screaming in pain, alongside piles of corpses.

In the end, 36 Swiss citizens, ten Japanese, six Brits, four Germans, two Colombians, and four locals were killed. And, of course, the six terrorists, ultimately shot by security forces as they half-heartedly attempted to flee the scene of the crime. They did not prepare for any exit route. Sacrificing their lives was part of their plan.

In the Luxor attack, on Nov. 17, 1997, certain elements came together, the same characteristics of terrorism that have since endangered lives across the planet. Islamic terrorism has metastasized in most countries over the past two decades — in New York, Bali, Barcelona, London, Brussels, Berlin and elsewhere.

The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut — Photo: Wikipedia

Neither religiously-motivated terror nor Islamic perpetrators were new in 1997. On the contrary, this history reaches back at least to the Middle Ages.

The principle of suicide attacks was also not ‘innovative": the Japanese kamikaze and the Shiite Revolutionary Guard, which had died in Saddam Hussein's minefields during the Iran-Iraq War, came long before the Luxor attack.

Attacks in the West or on Western targets weren't unusual either. In 1993, terrorists had targeted the World Trade Center in New York, murdering six; and a series of bombings in Paris in 1995 killed eight.

In Luxor, however, these three elements were brought together for the first time on an unprecedented scale: The perpetrators were radical Muslims, who willingly sacrificed their lives in order to generate sheer panic by killing Europeans and citizens of other industrial states. Premeditated savagery became a deliberate means.

After the attack, rattled vacationers fled Egypt in droves. Tourist agencies suffered 80% cancelation rates. But time and again, the travel industry, which is essential to the Egyptian economy, recovered. Even further Islamist attacks on tourists, such as in Sharm el Sheikh (2005) or Dahab (2006) or, more recently, in Hurghada (2016), have not stopped the flow of travelers. The risk has just been factored into the price. The other costs may be harder to quantify.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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