The recent killing of 12 tourists in Egypt as security forces chased jihadists has underlined the dangers of adventure tourism in a country at war with Islamist militants.
The Bahariya oasis in Egypt’s vast Western Desert is a tourist magnet – one of the reasons why 12 Mexican and Egyptian tourists were killed and 10 others were wounded when they were mistaken for jihadists by security forces.
A joint police and military operation “chasing terrorist elements” had “mistakenly” targeted four pick-up trucks carrying Mexican tourists, an interior ministry statement said.
The incident has raised further concerns for Egypt’s vital tourism industry, which has struggled to recover from years of political and economic chaos.
The Western Desert, popular with tour groups, extends from the suburbs of Cairo to the border with Libya.
It is also a militant hideout, and Western embassies have long warned against non-essential travel to the area.
Bahariya covers almost two-thirds of Egypt’s entire territory, stretching from the Nile to the Libyan border to the west and down to the border with Sudan in the south.
Bahariya’s hotels, clustered in a region more than 300 kilometres southwest of Cairo, are a big draw for tourists eager to explore its white desert dunes and black quartz hills.
Western embassies have repeated travel advisories against excursions to Bahariya, especially after the Islamic State jihadist group said in August that it had beheaded a young Croat seized not far from Cairo on the route to the Western Desert.
Australians are advised to reconsider the need to travel to Egypt because of the threat of terrorist attacks and kidnapping.
The Bahariya oasis, spread over 2,000 square kilometres and home to about 10 hotels circled by the black hills, prides itself on pharaonic monuments dating back to the New Kingdom, between 1550 BC and 1000 BC.
Among the attractions is the Temple of Alexander the Great and painted Ptolemaic tombs, while the recent discovery of golden mummies has enhanced its status in a country rich in archaeological treasures.