CAIRO - South Korea voiced shock and outrage Monday at the bombing of a tourist bus in Egypt that killed three of its nationals as well as the Egyptian driver.
The bomb tore through the bus carrying 31 South Korean tourists and their guide near an Egyptian border crossing with Israel in South Sinai on Sunday, in what is believed to be a suicide attack.
It was the first attack on tourists since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi by the army in July sparked civil unrest and a spate of attacks across the country that have mainly targeted security forces.
"We are shocked and enraged at the terrorist bombing on the bus... and strongly condemn the act," Seoul's foreign ministry said in a statement.
The tourists were all members of the same church group from the central South Korean county of Jincheon who were on a 12-day trip through Turkey, Egypt and Israel.
Three South Koreans - two men and a woman - were killed along with the Egyptian driver, the ministry confirmed, adding that another 14 of its citizens were injured.
Egypt's health ministry said 15 people had been taken to hospital and were in a stable condition.
Seoul issued a high-level travel warning for the Sinai region and the Gulf of Aqaba, and urged its nationals living elsewhere in Egypt to take extra precautions.
"We believe that terrorism can never be justified under any circumstances and such inhumane and unethical acts should be weeded out by all means," the ministry said.
- 'Body parts and corpses' -
The South Korean ambassador to Egypt, Kim Young-So, told Seoul's MBN TV station that the bombing appeared to be a suicide attack.
"An Egyptian man in his 20s suddenly boarded the bus and detonated the bomb... it appears to be a suicide bombing by a terrorist," Kim said.
Egypt's interior ministry said the bomb exploded in the front part of the bus at the Taba border crossing with Israel in south Sinai.
A doctor who had been waiting for a bus nearby witnessed the blast.
"There were body parts and corpses. I saw the corpse of a man who appeared to be Korean, with a leg missing," said Ahmed Ali, who runs a clinic in a neighbouring resort.
The interior ministry said the tourists had set off from Cairo and were waiting at the crossing to enter Israel when the explosion happened.
The Israel Airports Authority, which is responsible for border security, said the Taba crossing had been closed in the wake of the blast.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon condemned the strike and sent condolences to the families of the victims.
"He calls for the perpetrators to be brought to justice," Ban's spokesman said in a statement.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
- Tourism hit hard -
The bombing is likely to further damage Egypt's tourism industry, a once vital source of revenue that has suffered during the three years of unrest following the uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak.
Scores of Egyptian policemen and soldiers have been killed in bombings in Sinai and the Nile Delta, but Sunday's attack was the first to target tourists since Morsi's overthrow.
The unrest since last summer, including regular demonstrations by Morsi supporters that have set off deadly clashes with police and opponents, has severely hit tourism, which has been targeted sporadically by militants over the past two decades.
The government's census agency said the number of tourists was down by almost 31 per cent in December 2013 compared with the same month a year ago.
Sunday's bombing came as a court in Cairo began trying Morsi and 35 co-defendants on charges of espionage and collusion with militants to launch attacks in Egypt.
The military-installed government has accused Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood of masterminding the attacks that have also targeted police headquarters in Cairo.
The Brotherhood, now designated as a terrorist group, publicly renounced violence decades ago and denies involvement.
The deadliest attacks have been claimed by the Sinai-based Ansar Beit al-Maqdis group, whose leadership is drawn from militant Bedouin who want an Islamist state in the peninsula.
Between 2004 and 2006, scores of Egyptians and foreign tourists were killed in a spate of bombings in resorts in south Sinai.
In 1997, Islamist militants massacred dozens of tourists in a pharaonic temple in the southern city of Luxor.