Thursday,14 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1295, (12 - 18 May 2016)
Thursday,14 December, 2017
Issue 1295, (12 - 18 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Unknown assailants

The identity of those responsible for Sunday’s attack in Helwan that left eight policemen dead is the subject of fevered speculation, reports Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Eight plainclothes policemen were killed in the early hours of Sunday in Helwan by unknown militants. Four armed men dismounted from a truck and shot dead the eight policemen, who were patrolling in an unmarked micro-bus. The dead included one police officer and seven low-ranking policemen.

The Interior Ministry says the policemen, dressed in civilian clothes, were inspecting the security situation in Helwan when “four unidentified assailants with automatic weapons” stopped their vehicle and attacked them in Omar Abdel-Aziz Street.

An initial inspection of the scene of the attack recovered 120 bullet casings around the micro-bus. Each of the victims was shot more than 10 times.

A military funeral was held at New Cairo’s Police Academy on Sunday afternoon for the eight policemen.

The Islamic State (IS) group and the Popular Resistance both claimed responsibility for the attack. In a statement circulated on social media networks on Sunday morning, IS said the attack was staged to avenge women imprisoned in Egyptian jails.

“The attack resulted in the deaths of eight apostate police officers. Thanks to God the Jihadists were able to seize the killed officers’ weapons and return safely,” said the IS statement. Hours earlier, a Facebook page associated with the Popular Resistance also claimed responsibility for the attack. It gave the names of the victims before their identities were confirmed by the Interior Ministry.

“Young men of the movement carried out an ambush against the dogs of the Interior Ministry after receiving information about their route. They opened fire and left all of them dead,” read the statement.

It added that the attack was dedicated to the “martyrs of Rabaa Al-Adaweya massacre”. Rabaa Al-Adaweya Square was the site of a major Muslim Brotherhood’s sit-in demanding the reinstatement of Mohamed Morsi following his ouster as president in July 2013. According to the National Council for Human Rights, its dispersal in August 2013 led to the death of 632 people.

It is not the first time that IS and the Popular Resistance have claimed responsibility for the same attack. In June last year both groups issued statements claiming to be behind the assassination of Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat. Nine months later the Interior Ministry accused the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas of planning the assassination.

Since Morsi’s ouster, terrorist attacks in Egypt have claimed the lives of hundreds of security personnel. Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis — now known as IS affiliate in Egypt — is thought to have been behind most incidents targeting security forces though a number of smaller militant groups, including Agnad Misr, the Popular Resistance and Revolutionary Punishment, have emerged.

Security experts say the Muslim Brotherhood, which was designated a terrorist group in 2013, is probably behind Sunday’s attack.

Security expert Khaled Okasha believes there is “a link between the incident and death sentences against Muslim Brotherhood leaders” issued on Saturday after they were found guilty of spying for Qatar. Okasha also warns of an escalation in terrorist attacks in the coming period.

The Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement on Monday condemning the “vicious attack”.

“The group has always stressed the sanctity of blood and condemned violence whatever the motives as part of its commitment to faith, moral principles, genuine patriotism and a clear and peaceful approach,” the statement of said.

That the eight policemen were travelling in an unmarked micro-bus and wearing civilian clothes has led observers to speculate that the attack must have been based on inside information. Okasha has ruled out the possibility that the perpetrators obtained information of the policemen’s movements from within the security apparatus.

Major General Abdel-Rahim Sayed agrees. “We don’t want to get ahead of the ongoing investigation but it seems unlikely there is any penetration within the security apparatus,” he said.

Media reports on Monday claimed that five first lieutenant police officers were involved in the attack. Al-Wafd quoted a security source saying: “The five officers had previously refused to take part in the dispersal of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in and were subsequently removed from the Special Forces.” The source added that “the five officers dropped out of work a week before the Helwan incident” and “left messages to bid farewell to their families”.

South Cairo prosecution denied the rumours of police involvement. Ahmed Al-Abraq, South Cairo’s chief prosecutor, said, “The investigation of the security services has yet to identify the perpetrators of the attack.” He added that the prosecution has not yet issued arrest warrants against anyone.

Residents in Helwan told Al-Ahram Weekly that the perpetrators were not members of any terrorist groups but of the Abu Maseid tribe which is based on the outskirts of Helwan. The residents said the attack was due to “escalating tensions between members of the tribe and the police”.

On Monday, Cairo and Giza security directorates joined forces to stage a security clampdown focussed on the Al-Suff area on the outskirts of Helwan. The security raids, which also involved Central Security and Special Forces, were launched after information was received that the perpetrators of the attack had fled to the area, which contains desert paths and rocky terrain that is difficult to police.

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