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A suicide bomber blew himself up on Wednesday just steps away from the ancient Egyptian temple of Karnak in Luxor, a southern city visited by millions of tourists every year, security and health officials said.
Shortly after the explosion, police exchanged fire with and killed two suspected Islamic militants who had arrived at the sprawling, Nile-side temple together with the suicide bomber, the officials said.
Four people, including two policemen, were wounded in the exchange, according to the Health Ministry.
There were only a handful of tourists and Egyptians inside the temple at the time of the late morning attack, the officials added, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Wednesday’s attack was the first to target world-famous attractions in Luxor since November 1997, when Islamic militants opened fire on tourists at the city’s 3,400-year-old Hatshepsut Temple on the west bank of the Nile, killing 58.
Tourism is the lifeblood of Luxor, home to some of Egypt’s most famous ancient temples and pharaonic tombs, including that of King Tutankhamun. The city has been hit hard by a downturn in foreign visitors during the years of unrest since Egypt’s 2011 uprising.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Wednesday’s attack, but it bore the hallmarks of Islamic militants who have been battling security forces in the strategic Sinai Peninsula for years. Extremists in Sinai have targeted tourism sites to try to deny the government a key source of revenue.
Last year, the Sinai-based insurgent group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, which has destroyed famed archaeological sites in Syria and Iraq, viewing them as idolatrous.
The campaign of violence in Sinai accelerated and spread to other parts of Egypt following the 2013 military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. The militants say the attacks are in revenge for a massive crackdown on Islamists underway in Egypt.
The attack on the Luxor temple, which sits on the east bank of the Nile, comes as tourism was beginning to show signs of recovery after a four-year slump following the uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Associated Press reporter Maggie Michael contributed to this report from Cairo.