Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1249, (4 - 10 June 2015)
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1249, (4 - 10 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Black Bloc is back

The outlawed group has once again appeared on the streets, but Ahmed Morsy sees whether they are the same old faces

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Al-Ahram Weekly

After a two-year hiatus, the amorphous, outlawed group Black Bloc made headlines once again following a recently-established Facebook page.

Adopting the same name, Black Bloc claimed responsibility for sabotage and other acts of violence in Ismailia and Giza governorates throughout the past two weeks.

Early last week, the group said on Facebook that it was also responsible for burning five public transport buses in Ismailia.

“We declare our full responsibility for setting fire to the bus station in Ismailia in response to the clashes between security forces and our affiliated groups which resulted in the serious injury to one youth. We emphasise that this is just the beginning of the escalation; the eye for an eye and the initiator is the unjust one,” a statement by the group said.

Over the weekend, members of the same group threw Molotov cocktails at the headquarters of the Traffic Department also in Ismailia, gutting parts of the building. The group again claimed responsibility for the incident and “the continuation of hostile and violent acts which targets and burns installations and facilities until the full release of youth detainees”.

“The Criminal Investigation Department in Ismailia was assigned to investigate the two incidents and to summon eyewitnesses, in addition to releasing pictures from surveillance cameras to gather information that will quickly lead to the arrests of the perpetrators,” Major-General Montasser Abu-Zeid, security director of Ismailia, said.

On Friday, Black Bloc set fire to two branches of mobile telecommunication companies in Giza and claimed that its attacks reached downtown Cairo. The group called on its supporters to form armed groups according to their geographical regions, each made up of 10 members. It also asked them to allocate a secret place to store their weapons during the preparatory phase of any operation and also in anticipation of any security raids.

The general prosecutor on Sunday ordered the arrest of Black Bloc members over their involvement in sabotage. Al-Ahram Weekly learned that police forces in cooperation with the National Security Apparatus are meanwhile gathering information from several social media websites to identify the group's members.

Though the newer Facebook page adopts the same designation as the 2013 Black Bloc Facebook page, the older page issued a statement last week announcing that the newer group is not affiliated to it, after the original group claimed it had halted its activities.

The official Black Bloc page, established in 2013, issued a statement denying its responsibility for the recent incident. “At the moment, our activities are frozen. We will be back again but now is not the time. We are against the Muslim Brotherhood and also military rule and so we cannot be considered affiliated to any of the two parties. Any other page does not represent us.”

The Black Bloc first appeared in Tahrir Square on 24 January 2013, ahead of the second anniversary of the 25 January Revolution which ousted Hosni Mubarak as president. At that time, the group created a frenzy of media speculation as members popped up across the country. Mostly young, some were anarchists, others football Ultras.

Black Bloc has consistently declared itself a discreet entity. It says its main purpose was to oppose the Muslim Brotherhood during the one-year rule of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

The denial of the older Black Bloc page that there is no link between the group and the recent violent acts in Ismailia and Giza opened the door for allegations concerning the affiliation of the members of the latest group. Some security experts believe that it is a movement affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood while others believe it is linked to foreign intelligence agencies.

“The newer group is directly linked to the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood organisation,” security expert Khaled Okasha told the Weekly. “They are trying to adopt the same name in an attempt to deceive the security forces and public opinion so as to let them believe that they are not linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The term ‘Black Bloc’ has been used for years in Europe and the United States to describe the tactics used by anarchists and anti-capitalists during large-scale political demonstrations that regularly turn into street fights with the authorities. It was first used in Germany in the 1970s to refer to a group of anarchists, and was loosely applied during the anti-World Trade Organisation protests in Seattle in 1999 and the G-20 summit in Toronto in 2010.

“Comparing the activities and techniques of the two groups [the newer and older Black Bloc groups] also proves that they are separate,” Okasha said. “The newer group is considered one of several terrorist groups similar to other terrorist groups that are secretly linked to the Muslim Brotherhood such Revolutionary Punishment and Helwan Brigades.”

Revolutionary Punishment was established after the fourth anniversary of the 2011 January revolt. It has since claimed responsibility for bombings which included KFC outlets. Its most infamous operation was last April’s attack on two electricity towers supplying the Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC).

Helwan Brigades carries out operations against police personnel and facilities and vandalises private and public property, especially electricity infrastructure, the prosecution said. In February, General Prosecutor Hisham Barakat referred to trial 215 individuals for forming the armed group. According to an earlier statement by the prosecution concerning Helwan Brigades, it said that the investigation revealed that "leaders from the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood organisation developed a terrorist scheme from inside prison that aims to topple the regime".

Fighting such groups, according to Okasha, is not easy. Tightening security measures around vital installations will not stop such attacks because the group randomly attacks any building. “But it’s only a matter of time before security forces gather the necessary information to quickly arrest such elements, similar to what happened with Revolutionary Punishment and Helwan Brigades,” he said.

On the formation of the latest Black Bloc group, Okasha said: “It is formed mainly by Muslim Brotherhood youth members as well as members of the Alliance to Support Legitimacy [an Islamist alliance supporting the Brotherhood] and also includes members of Hazemoun [supporters of Salafi leader Hazem Salah Abu Ismail].

“The older Black Bloc group did not used to appear on the streets or conduct any acts of sabotage and almost all of their activities were on social media platforms,” Okasha claimed. However, Black Bloc claimed responsibility in 2013 for setting fire to the downtown offices of Ikhwan Online, the official English website of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as several of the Muslim Brotherhood's provincial headquarters. They have frequently blocked the 6 October Bridge with burning car tires. They have also stopped the Cairo metro more than once.

Moreover, in one of their videos entitled “Black Bloc Egypt”, uploaded on YouTube in 2013, the group provided instructions on how to make explosive devices, smoke bombs and other weapons.

Major General Fouad Allam, a security expert and former deputy head of the Supreme State Security Apparatus, says the name terrorist groups use to call themselves is not the issue since they, in the end, exist. “Such titles are nonsense and only aim to mislead security agencies.” Allam linked such terrorist groups, including Black Bloc, to foreign intelligence agencies.

“The Internet is the most dangerous tool used by the intelligence agencies of Israel and America to recruit members and form such groups,” Allam told the Weekly. “But time has proven that security forces have succeeded in dealing with such terrorist groups, although the operations carried out by affiliated members of the Muslim Brotherhood will continue for a long time until we apply a scientific system in confronting terrorism,” he said.

“Dealing with terrorism solely by security means is a catastrophic failure and a disastrous solution,” Allam said.

Terrorist attacks in Egypt have claimed the lives of more than 500 security personnel since July 2013. Though Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis — now known as State of Sinai — is at the forefront of militant groups launching attacks against security targets since Morsi’s ouster in July 2013, other smaller militant groups emerge from time to time claiming responsibility for minor terrorist attacks.

“The security confrontation of terrorism leads to the arrest of innocent people. There are certainly innocent people in prison. When they live and deal with criminal and terrorist elements in jail they become hundreds of times more dangerous when they are freed compared to terrorists themselves,” Allam said while describing the disadvantages of the security solution.

“Egypt’s history proves that we tried to combat terrorism by security alone for 40 years but it did not work. And when we applied the scientific system to confront it following the assassination of former president Anwar Al-Sadat in 1981, it gradually began to disappear and was fully eliminated in 1997.”

Allam states that the scientific solution to confront terrorism should rely on seven factors: political, cultural, economic, information, social, religious and security. “Ministries and Al-Azhar should be included since it is only through these seven elements that the state can get rid of the false beliefs of terrorists and make people understand the correct teachings of the religion.”

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