Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1280, (28 January - 3 February 2016)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1280, (28 January - 3 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Heightened security in Sinai

Security precautions were notched up across the country ahead of the anniversary of the 25 January Revolution, and nowhere more so than in Sinai, writes Ahmed Eleiba

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The Salam Bridge and Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel were closed, as were all crossings with Gaza and Israel, the port at Al-Arish and the main highway across north Sinai ahead of the anniversary of the 25 January Revolution.

Mobile patrols were active around Al-Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid and military aircraft were deployed to monitor movements on the ground. A local Sinai source told Al-Ahram Weekly that only people holding an ID from Sinai were allowed to enter the peninsula. The measures are to remain in place until 29 January.

The Islamic State (IS) group affiliate Sinai Province, formerly known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, has stepped up its attempts to recruit Muslim Brotherhood members. In a video clip posted on 23 January, titled “Messages from the Land of Sinai”, Sinai Province leader Abu Osama Al-Masri urged advocates of the “peaceful approach” espoused by the Brotherhood to change tactics and begin an armed uprising against the regime in Egypt.

“Look at the so-called peaceful approach that only kills its own people. There it is, supported by democracy and secularism, its flaws exposed to all the people. God Almighty chose retribution for the people and made it life. But the people choose peacefulness, which only kills its advocates,” he said.

He admonished Muslim Brothers for “failing to learn” from the era of Hosni Mubarak, the “former false idol”.

“Once again the Muslim Brothers are in prison. Where is their understanding of reality? Where is the benefit of experience? Now there is another false idol in Egypt.”

He called on Muslim Brothers to reject the new “false idol” – President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi – “with your tongues, your hearts and your hands, to save your souls and restore to them their usurped dignity ... To avenge your sons and recuperate your property raise arms in defence your honour.”

Brotherhood members who planned to take part in protest demonstrations on the occasion of the 25 January anniversary were instructed by Al-Masri to chant “Rule is for God alone”. He concluded his message with a call for an “uprising to liberate Al-Aqsa, to establish the caliphate by liberating Constantinople and Rome, and establish God’s Law by killing tyrants everywhere”.

Muslim Brotherhood members received a similar appeal from Egyptian Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahri. Some analysts say that the double appeal was no coincidence but a reflection of the rivalry between the Al-Qaeda affiliate Murabitun and Sinai Province.

Informed sources say a relationship already exists between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Murabitun. “Some Brotherhood members tried to create cells in the pro-Daesh [IS] organisation – so-called ‘legitimacy brigades’ – but the plan failed to pan out because of ideological differences over the concept of legitimacy,” one source told the Weekly.

The Muslim Brotherhood issued its own statement on the eve of the anniversary condemning terrorist attacks against the army and police. The Brotherhood continues to claim it has no links with terrorist organisations, something security sources say is untrue.

“There have been training sessions conducted by Al-Qaeda trainers,” said one highly placed security source. “We also know Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya set up training camps in Minia and Marsa Matrouh, at which Muslim Brotherhood brigades were trained in terrorist operations.”

The Brotherhood, he said, is playing its old game. “It insists it is peaceful, and this may be true for its members who do not carry weapons, but at the same time its armed brigades are being trained in violence and extremism.”

A Sinai source offered a different interpretation of Sinai Province’s attempt to recruit Muslim Brothers. “It is an admission that it is unable to successfully recruit among Sinai’s tribes,” he said.

Sinai resident Gazi Abu Farag said the Muslim Brotherhood has a large base of supporters in the Sinai that the peninsula’s IS affiliate is keen to tap into.

While there is no let-up in the intensity of security operations against extremist organisations in Sinai, “each side is constantly changing tactics”, said Abu Farag. He believes takfiri organisations are still able to attract tribesmen and in some cases brainwash them into committing terrorist acts. He points to growing anxiety among North Sinai’s inhabitants over Sinai Province’s recruitment drive.

“First they focussed on Rafah. Then it spread to Sheikh Zuweid and now to Al-Arish.” According to Abu Farag, concerns have been aggravated by “the ease with which they infiltrate towns”.

“Now they recruit on a family rather than an individual basis. Recruits join not as individuals but with their entire family. The families move with the recruits, providing cover for the operatives. This is happening across Al-Arish.”

Abu Farag is also concerned about the way social networking sites are being used to facilitate terrorist operations. Sites such as “Sinai Al-Ezz” (The Proud) and “Sinai 24” and webpages with names like “Ibtisam Al-Mujtahida” and “Ali Mahmoud” are operated by members of the organisation and used to transmit messages.

“Sinai Province posts video clips on these pages and has used them to broadcast the names of young people it accuses of cooperating with security forces and threaten them with execution.”

In the meantime, the Martyr’s Right 2 operation remains ongoing. According to the Armed Forces spokesman, 30 terrorists were “eliminated” and 10 seriously wounded last week. The army succeeded in destroying eight farms and vehicles belonging to terrorists, and large quantities of weapons and explosives were seized from two storehouses. Four soldiers were killed and eight injured in the operations.

Sinai Province has claimed responsibility for several recent attacks outside Sinai, including a bomb attack in Cairo’s Haram district. Some security experts question whether the group has the capability to launch attacks in mainland Egypt and treat the claims with scepticism.

A more likely perpetrator, they say, is the group formed by Ashraf Al-Gharbali, an extremist who was arrested last year, which has been active in the capital and has the capacity to carry operations. The group is also an IS affiliate, but considered a separate entity to Sinai Province.

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