Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Counter-terrorism rethink

Last week’s attack on a police checkpoint in North Sinai has led to an overhaul of security plans, reports Ahmed Eleiba

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Al-Ahram Weekly

A terrorist attack in North Sinai last week targeted a police checkpoint in the Safa neighbourhood in southern Arish. According to the Interior Ministry, all 18 police officers and soldiers manning the checkpoint were killed in the attack, which employed heavy weaponry. The victims included three officers — two captains and First Lieutenant Mohamed Ibrahim, who hailed from Arish.

 

IS CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY: The Sinai branch of the Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement released on the Internet. The statement said a suicide bomber — Abul-Qaaqaa Al-Masri — drove an explosive-laden car into the security force and detonated it.

Police personnel — whom the statement called “apostates” for insulting Muslim women by searching them at the checkpoint — were the targets of the attack. The statement threatened more attacks in the future.

Ali Bakr, an expert in extremist groups at Al-Ahram’s Al-Siyasa Al-Dawliya, said there is no reason to doubt the terrorist group’s claim to be behind the attack. He added the group’s reasoning — that the police had insulted local women by searching them — was a thinly veiled attempt to win local sympathy.

 

PREPARATIONS FOR THE ATTACK: The operation was carefully organised, suggesting it had long been planned. A reliable unofficial source told Al-Ahram Weekly that IS surveillance personnel had probably observed the checkpoint for some time and that automatic weapons and an RPG were stashed nearby.

The checkpoint was close to a valley and olive farm, providing ground cover that the terrorists probably used to crawl undetected on the ground as they hid their weapons. When the suicide bomber struck his cohorts were then able to fire on any survivors using their cache of weapons. This could not have happened without support from individuals in the area, said the source.

 

THE RESPONSE: The same source said that reinforcements reached the site of the attack within 15 minutes. The 101st Brigade, the Arish 1 police station, and the Airport Brigade approached from different directions to evacuate the victims. The Arish-Qantara ring road was immediately closed to pursue any fleeing terrorists.

According to the prosecutor-general, the incident took place at 6.30pm on Saturday. Prosecutors say checkpoint personnel were subjected to mortar and RPG fire. Ambulances attempting to reach the scene of the attack also came under heavy gunfire.

The attack was the biggest in Sinai this year. Ahmed Al-Beheiri, a researcher with the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, warns it could mark the return of organised terrorist operations after a period of lone wolf attacks against checkpoints and army personnel.

SECURITY PLANNING: “Several meetings have been held between parliamentarians and state officials,” said North Sinai MP Hossam Al-Rifaai. “We have met with the president, prime minister, defence minister and senior security officials. One of the main themes of our discussions was how to rethink security planning in North Sinai.”

From the MPs’ point of view, said Al-Rifaai, there are some clear security shortcomings. They asked, for example, what possible purpose can be served by a permanent checkpoint that can be so easily monitored and surveilled. They also criticised the press.

“The private media in Egypt is targeting Sinai unthinkingly,” Al-Rifaai told the Weekly. “It accuses Sinai natives of supporting terrorism and claims they’re behind terrorist attacks. There is no evidence to back up such claims. Those terrorists are not sons of Sinai, except perhaps for one or two aberrant individuals, the types that can be found in any society.

“Sinai natives suffer from terrorism more than their fellow citizens, and at the same time they suffer from counterterrorism measures. The vast majority who carry out the attacks are drawn from outside the peninsula.”

On demands that Sinai’s Bedouin population be forcibly relocated, Al-Rifaai said: “Those who are demanding the displacement of Sinai natives do not understand that this will achieve a goal that is exclusively in Israel’s interest.”

Speaking of proposed development projects in North Sinai, the MP said: “It will be difficult for any project to succeed before terrorism is eradicated in Sinai.”

Al-Rifaai had earlier issued an open invitation to fellow parliamentarians to visit North Sinai and form a committee to assess the situation, the needs of the area and of the security forces. The proposal was then extended to include all border areas. But when the visit did take place, North Sinai was excluded for security reasons.

“Those who accuse Sinai residents of terrorism are accusing all Egyptians. For what is national security if not the security of every citizen, every army and police officer, and every civilian? Sinai’s civilians have paid with their blood and yet they are accused of being terrorists. No one seems to remember that they, too, are killed in these operations. The martyred officer from Arish was an Egyptian officer before he was an officer from Sinai.”

On Tuesday, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi held a security meeting attended by the ministers of interior and defence, the army chief of staff and senior army and police commanders. Security in Sinai topped the agenda.

Presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef said Al-Sisi ordered the army and police to fully coordinate in the field. Security forces were placed on high alert, and the decision was taken to continue targeting terrorist and criminal dens while simultaneously prioritising the safety and security of civilians.

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