Updated February. 19, 2014 04:47
In short, it was as tragic as can be. The five-star tour bus in yellow, which was carrying Korean tourists on pilgrimage tour, was reduced to skeletons due to flames. One full day has passed since the terrorist attack, but toxic offensive smell stemming from burnt rubber tires and clothes greeted my nose.
The devastating scene of bus bombing at a border checkpoint in Taba in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, was revealed to Korean reporters for the first time on Tuesday.
The site was just 200 meters away from Egyptian-Israeli border. It is about 30 or 40 meters from Taba Hilton and Casino Hotel, two major luxury hotels in city. Impact from massive explosion blasted off the bus windshield to the main gate to Hilton, some 40 meters from the site, and several sections of hotel fence were also seen collapsed.
With its windshield and roof torn off, the bus only displayed skeletons of seats in disarray, which were burnt down due to fire. As explosion occurred at the right front door of the bus, the frame of the bus was twisted to the right, with its roof torn up to the sky. Glass debris, sneakers, bags, mittens, and cosmetics that belonged to the ill-fated passengers, were seen scattered at roadsides around the bus, illustrating the horrific situation on the day of the attack.
The terrorists apparently set their target at the intersection of main streets that tourists to Taba, Sharm el-Sheikh, and the Sinai Peninsula, world-famous tourist destinations, must pass through. It was dusky after 6 p.m. when this reporter visited, but tourist buses were waiting in line near the border checkpoint to enter Israel, just like the bombed bus.
When a bus carrying reporters covering the attack left at 2 p.m. on the day from Sharm el-Sheikh hospital where injured Koreans are hospitalized, a vehicle with armed Egyptian security guards escorted the reporters bus. Inside the armed vehicle, two soldiers armed with rifles were on guard. It was due to worries that since the vehicle carrying Korean reporters and foreign affairs ministry officials was similar to the bombed tourist bus in size, the former could become a target for another attack.
While driving for about four hours along coastal roads through rough rocky mountain and beaches of the Red Sea, the bus had to stop at dozens of checkpoints. Soldiers backed up by armed vehicles closed inspected even the trunk of the vehicle, as security was watertight.
When the Korean delegation arrived at the border checkpoint in Tapa around 6 p.m. close to sunset, policeman Mohammad, who was on guard at the bombing site, said, Bombing occurred five minutes after the bus arrived at the checkpoint, adding, Amid loud banging sound that was so massive that one could even hear from several kilometers away, dark smoke flared up, and the bodies of the deceased and people who suffered injuries were seen mixed up in disarray around the bus.
Christina (42), Italian tourist whom this reporter met at the site, said, I came to know in the news that a bombing attack occurred at this place, while taking photos of the burnt bus with her mobile phone. A staff at Taba Hotel told this reporter, I sincerely apologize as an Egyptian, as he greeted us with solemn facial expression.
Through analysis of closed circuit TV footage taken at the time of the accident on Monday, Egyptian police tentatively concluded that the suicide bomber might have detonated a bomb when he reached the third step of the front door on the chartered tour bus. In a statement posted on the web on Monday, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (meaning "supporters of the holy house"), the Muslim extremist group that claimed responsibility for the attack, called the bombing economic war against the betraying government. The group apparently intended to cause damage to the tourism industry that takes up a lions share of the Egyptian economy.
The remains of Je Jin-soo, tour company president who was killed at the bus bombing, will be carried to Korea via Cairo Airport on Tuesday. Bereaved families of two Korean victims arrived in Egypt on the day to get the remains of their relatives. Most of the 14 people who were injured will return to Korea in one or two days in order to receive treatment in their home country. Koreans who suffered light injuries will likely arrive at Incheon International Airport on Wednesday afternoon due to short supply of air tickets.