Holy Week began, as always, with the observance of Palm Sunday. Within hours tragedy struck.
As Coptic Christians attended church services across Egypt terrorist bombs in Tanta and Alexandria claimed the lives of dozens of people and resulted in the injury of more than 100.
Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the two bombings. Until Al-Ahram Weekly went to press security forces were still investigating the attacks which in Alexandria killed 17 and injured 48, and in Tanta killed 26 and injured 71.
Security sources say the attack at St George Church in Tanta was most likely the work of a suicide bomber though they have yet to completely discount the possibility of a remote-controlled bomb, planted earlier inside the church, being detonated.
CCTV camera footage from the church, as well as from shops close by is currently being examined and police have requested anyone who may have relevant footage taken on mobile phones to contact them.
IS claims of responsibility have not prevented Interior Ministry officials and security analysts from incriminating other groups, Hasm (Decisiveness) and Lewaa Al-Thawra (Revolution Brigade) among them. Former Jihad leader Nabil Naim, meanwhile, has implicated a shadowy movement called Al-Tawq Al-Nadhif (The Clean Collar), which he claims is part of an Israeli-led conspiracy, while others point accusing fingers at Qatar and Turkey.
ISLAMIC STATE: IS claimed responsibility for the attacks soon after they happened. It released a statement saying that “the attack on the church in Alexandria was executed by Abul-Baraa Al-Masry and in Tanta by Abu Ishak Al-Masry.” It claimed both men used suicide vests and threatened more attacks to follow.
Saad Al-Zant, director of the Centre for Political Studies and Communication Ethics think tank said the bombings were most probably a reaction to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s visit to the US and his discussions with President Donald Trump on ways to counter terrorism. Al-Zant predicted that there will be more terrorist attacks and speculated that the bombers were likely to be among those who escaped from the army’s recent operation to clear Sinai’s Gabal Al-Halal of terrorists.
QATAR AND TURKEY: Some commentators have accused Qatar or Turkey of sponsoring the attacks. Doha has offered refuge to Muslim Brotherhood leaders since Mohamed Morsi was removed from power in 2013 and during last month’s Arab summit in Jordan Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamed bin Khalifa Al-Thani insisted “it is unfair to label political groups with which we have differences as terrorist when they are not” — a clear reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Tamim’s defence of the Muslim Brotherhood is an incentive for the group to continue their ideological deviation and for more terrorist groups to emerge under the cloak of the Brotherhood,” Ali Bakr, an expert on Islamist affairs, was quoted as saying in Al-Ahram Weekly last week.
There is mounting evidence that Brotherhood leaders in Doha and Istanbul incited members of Hasm and Lewaa Al-Thawra to execute suicide attacks targeting Copts during Holy Week. Security sources say this incitement followed the pattern set by Mohab Al-Sayed and Mahmoud Shafik ahead of the December bombing of Cairo’s St Peter and St Paul Church, and by Yehia Abu Moussa, who fled to Turkey, who urged the assassination of prosecutor-general Hisham Barakat.
Mohamed Al-Ghoul, a member of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, says there is little that is arbitrary in the directing of terrorist operations. Behind such operations, he says, are countries whose intelligence bodies finance the attacks. Al-Ghoul told reporters the timing of the attacks — following Al-Sisi’s return from a successful visit to the US, ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Egypt, and in the wake of the army’s successful operation to clear Sinai’s Gabal Al-Helal of terrorists — was no coincidence.
“Throughout its history Egypt has only witnessed bombings that target a section of its citizens during times of tyranny when there is no security, freedom or dignified life,” tweeted Islamist theologian Youssef Al-Qaradawi, head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars who currently resides in Qatar. An hour later, Al-Qaradawi deleted his tweet and wrote instead: “We denounce all attacks on innocent lives and we confirm they are crimes not in line with any laws, ethics or customs, and all those who commit these crimes will be met with great torture.”
HASM AND LEWAA AL-THAWRA: The Revolution Brigade has previously used its Twitter account to claim responsibility for the assassination of Brigadier General Adel Ragaai, commander of an artillery division deployed in Sinai. Ragaai was shot as he was leaving his home in Obour satellite city in Greater Cairo. One of the movements that the Hasm militant organisation claimed to have created, the Revolution Brigade’s first claimed attack was against the Al-Agizi checkpoint in Sadat City in Menoufiya in which two policemen were killed, and three policemen and two civilians wounded.
Decisiveness and the Revolution Brigade are the latest additions to the list of militant Islamist movements that emerged following the 25 January and 30 June revolutions. They join Hazemoon, Revolutionary Retribution, Ahrar, Popular Resistance, the Helwan Brigades, Molotov, Execution, Thugs against the Coup and Anonymous: the names of the offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood may vary but their aims are the same. They seek to undermine security, spread instability and chaos and overthrow the government. They use the same strategies: lone wolf attackers or small cells of no more than five people, carrying out their violent attacks without any need for direct instructions or contact with those higher up in the Muslim Brotherhood chain of command.
These movements openly espoused violence in the wake of the break-up of the Rabaa and Nahda Square sit-ins. Muslim Brotherhood leaders who fled abroad, leaving field and operational command to the group’s younger members, claim that they had “lost control” over the Brotherhood’s youth wings.
There is evidence of the Revolution Brigade’s affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. The group’s third video posting included appearances by four men thought to have been killed by security forces and who the Brotherhood had acknowledged as members.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s propaganda machine orchestrated a campaign covering the deaths of the four and the Revolution Brigade closely echoes the Muslim Brotherhood’s media discourse, focusing on the same incidents and uttering the same accusations against the Interior Ministry. It regularly quotes Brotherhood ideologues.
The Ministry of Interior issued a statement saying that “in a continuation of efforts to arrest members of the armed Decisiveness and Revolution Brigade which are affiliated to the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood, the National Security Sector gathered information that members of these movements were residing in two residential units in Alexandria and Menoufiya and at a farm in Beheira governorate where they trained members in the use of arms and in the manufacture of bombs to be used in terror attacks. One of the bombs was planted near the second police station in Al-Raml district in Alexandria on 17 March… They also planned a number of assassination operations and did succeed in killing a National Security officer in Beheira.”
The Beheira farm was searched by police and its inhabitants arrested. They were found to be in possession of bomb-making equipment. Security forces also discovered an underground tunnel used as a lab to manufacture bombs destined for the Decisiveness and Revolution Brigade. Security forces also say they uncovered a Muslim Brotherhood plan for a bombing campaign targeting police stations across the Delta.
THE CLEAN COLLAR: Ex-Jihad leader Nabil Naim claims the Clean Collar is a strategy to destabilise Egypt by undermining national unity, part of a wider Israeli plan to destroy the armies of Egypt, Syria and Iraq. In several press statements Naim has repeated that terrorists seeking the collapse of the Egyptian state are funded by many countries.
Some commentators concur: the spread of terrorist groups across the Arab world, they say, is intended to divide Arab states into fiefdoms controlled by militias, the entire process part of a Western and Zionist conspiracy to divide the Arab region on ethnic and sectarian grounds, thereby destroying the Arab states and leaving Israel as the only nation.