|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
31 Dec. 1998 - 6 Jan. 1999
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Sharp decline in terrorism
In all, 18 militants were killed, all in Minya. They included Emad Rushdi Amin, believed to be the local military commander of the underground Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiya, as well as members of the underground's military wing: Gamal Mahmoud Farghali, Yehia Ali Seddiq, Hamza Abdel-Hamid and Abdel-Mu'ezz.
According to security sources, the search is continuing for a "very limited" number of suspected militants who are still at large. The sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that security forces had managed to scale down the Gama'a's activities in Minya, Assiut and Qena by 85 per cent. Their sources of arms and finances have been cut off completely.
The number of people killed in acts of terrorism has also dropped significantly. Nine civilians and 11 policemen were killed during the year in addition to the 18 militants. The figures for 1997 were much higher: 32 militants, 44 policemen and 50 civilians, not including the 58 tourists killed in Luxor.
According to security officials, the decline in acts of terrorism was due to a new pre-emptive strategy enforced by police forces following the Luxor killings. The carnage led to the replacement of then Interior Minster Hassan El-Alfi by Habib El-Adli. In a statement made earlier this year, El-Adli affirmed the government's determination to eradicate militant violence by enforcing a new integrated security plan.
The plan, he said, upgrades the training and technical levels of security forces hounding terrorists in mountains, deserts and plantations. "Under the plan, security forces should be able to take the initiative in launching pre-emptive attacks on organised terrorist groups and on those acting to stage terrorist attacks. This can be achieved by establishing an integrated system of information [on terrorists] and ensuring the efficiency and accuracy required in carrying out the anti-terrorist attacks."
El-Adli said the plan also calls for activating a system of security campaigns in an attempt to curtail the ability of terrorist elements to obtain weapons, ammunition and forged documents. It provides for tighter security measures at tourist and archaeological sites as well as greater coordination with a number of other ministries and institutions to use all legal channels to give chase to expatriate terrorists.
According to a top-ranking official in the Interior Ministry who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly on the customary condition of anonymity, "the new plan also calls for greater regional and international cooperation in combating terrorism as one form of organised crime."
Egypt has been talking with a number of European countries in the hope of persuading them to expel militants residing there or, at least, prevent them from using their territory as a springboard for action against Egyptian interests. The countries include Britain, Austria, Sweden and Switzerland.
This year, the source continued, Egypt played host to 69 regional and international economic, political and security conferences. "Organising these conferences in our country is proof of the confidence other nations have in the stability of our security situation," the source said. The conferences, he added, provided an opportunity for showcasing the capability of Egypt's police to stage such events.
Through these conferences, Egypt also succeeded in persuading several Islamic and European countries to tighten the noose around expatriate militants. Efforts were intensified during the year to explore all possible ways by which the government could gain the extradition of expatriate militants who take refuge in Western and Islamic states. When extradition is unlikely due to the host countries' political, legal or human rights concerns, Egypt hopes that it will be able to persuade these states to curtail the activities of expatriates.
"The objective was to make sure that these expatriates -- mostly leading figures in the Gama'a, Jihad and Tala'i' Al-Fath (Vanguards of Conquest) organisations -- are denied the opportunity to plan or finance attacks against Egyptian officials or interests inside or outside the country," the source said.
In March, Cairo hosted a meeting of experts from member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to draft the guidelines of an anti-terrorism resolution. The guidelines were based on a "code of conduct" approved by the OIC summit held in Tehran in December 1997. Egypt was the prime mover behind the code.
In April, during an extraordinary meeting at the headquarters of the Arab League, Arab interior and justice ministers agreed on the first treaty promising cooperation in the fight against terrorism. The treaty commits Arab countries to the war against terrorist crimes. They are required to tighten their borders to prevent attempts to smuggle weapons and explosives or the infiltration of terrorists. Signatories are obligated not to support terrorist acts and to refrain from receiving, training or providing terrorists with weapons.
The treaty also lays down guidelines for the secret exchange of information as well as the extradition of terrorists, whether through diplomatic channels or by the ministries of justice in the countries concerned.
In October, Egypt used its position as host of an InterPol conference to press the international police organisation to endorse proposals for greater restrictions on the movement of terrorist suspects, cutting off their sources of funding, preventing them from seeking haven abroad and securing their extradition.
The Luxor massacre and the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania last August resulted in greater international cooperation in the war against terrorism. As part of this cooperation, Egypt received over 30 suspects believed to have been involved in terrorist operations from several countries including South Africa, Albania, Bulgaria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. According to an official at the State Security Prosecutor's office, most of these suspects belong to the Jihad group and have close connections with Jihad leader Ayman El-Zawahri, believed to be residing in Afghanistan. Some of the suspects are believed to have links with Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, accused by Washington of organising the twin bombings which killed at least 260 people at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Those extradited include Sayed Salama, a suspected aide of Bin Laden who was deported to Egypt by Saudi Arabia last June.
Egypt also received Ahmed Ibrahim El-Naggar, who had been sentenced to death in absentia for his role in a plot to blow up Cairo's historic Khan El-Khalili bazaar in 1995. He was also in charge of the Centre of Islamic Heritage in Albania.
The source told the Weekly that El-Naggar confessed that he raised funds and assigned specific activities to the group members in accordance with El-Zawahri's instructions. He also confessed that he assisted a number of Egyptian Afghans to enter Albania and other Balkan states to escape the security restrictions imposed on them in Arab countries and Pakistan.
Other suspects made confessions about the activities of El-Zawahri and Bin Laden in Afghanistan and said that Bin Laden's aides, particularly Sayyed Salama, ran the Saudi millionaire's economic projects in Sudan.
The suspects described the activities of Adel Abdel-Meguid Abdel-Bari, a political refugee in Britain, known for his close connections to El-Zawahri. In London, Abdel-Bari runs the so-called Office for Defending the Egyptian People, which security sources describe as a Jihad communication facility. Abdel-Bari had been sentenced to death in absentia, also in connection with the Khan El-Khalili attack.
Those extradited to Egypt by other countries include Tarek Ali Mursi, a suspected Jihad member who was deported by South Africa. Mursi is believed to be one of the suspects in the 1996 bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad.
State Security Prosecutor Hisham Saraya told the Weekly that the interrogation of Gama'a and Jihad suspects showed that the two groups suffer great domestic isolation and lack the necessary leaders as well as "effective cadres in their military wings".
He said many arrested suspects were not armed "which indicated the militants' inability to acquire weapons, a far cry from the situation in the early 1990s".
The number of Gama'a and Jihad suspects rounded up from governorates and referred to the State Security Prosecutor throughout the year totalled 402.
Montasser El-Zayat, the Gama'a's lawyer, told the Weekly that under the new security plan, police showed greater respect for the law in making arrests, treatment was improved in prisons and some detained militants were released. In November, 800 suspects were released, raising to 5,000 the number of detainees freed throughout year. "Although the militants released are not significant figures, we are satisfied. It is a step which opened the way for building up a sort of trust," El-Zayat said.
The Interior Ministry has also scaled down wide-scale arrests which, in the past, resulted in acts which targeted policemen.