Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1352, (13 - 19 July 2017)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1352, (13 - 19 July 2017)

Ahram Weekly

A tribute to heroes

The 26 members of Battalion 103 killed in Friday’s terrorist attack south of Rafah are martyrs whose memory will live on in our collective consciousness, writes Ahmed Eleiba


The grand funeral of military martyr officer Khaled Al-Maghrabi, a recent casualty of terrorism in Sinai, held at his hometown of Toukh near Cairo (photo: Reuters)
The grand funeral of military martyr officer Khaled Al-Maghrabi, a recent casualty of terrorism in Sinai, held at his hometown of Toukh near Cairo (photo: Reuters)

اقرأ باللغة العربية

The scenes at the funeral ceremonies, held in 13 governorates, of those killed in Friday’s terror attack were awe-inspiring. Among the dead was Colonel Ahmed Al-Mansi whose funeral was attended by his 10-year-old son dressed in a military uniform, delivering a powerful message to the terrorists who want to destroy Egypt: the army will always stand between them and their goal.

The battle fought by Battalion 103 last Friday was one of many heroic encounters in the war against terror. The unit itself has been dubbed the “martyrs’ brigade”. Colonel Al-Mansi, when taking up the mantle of his late predecessor Colonel Rami Hassanein, said in his eulogy: “May my teacher and mentor be with God… I learned so much from him… He is a martyr… Whether we like it or not we will meet again soon.”

The battalion is half a century old. It was founded following the 1967 War as special forces unit under the command of Ibrahim Al-Rifaai who would distinguish himself as a commander in the 1973 War. It developed into a force combining commandoes and marines and played an important role in the War of Attrition and the October War.

In his tribute to the regiment Captain Abdallah Halafaya wrote on his Facebook page: “I thank God for giving me the honour to see what happened at Al-Barth in Sinai from 4am to 5:30am so that I, in my capacity as a commander of a neighbouring checkpoint, could learn from those heroes the meaning of persistence, determination and courage… Although I had experienced many raids before and felt that I was a courageous officer who was not afraid of anything I now realise that I am nothing next to these heroes. No matter how much I write I will never be able to do them justice.”

Halafaya describes the situation at 4am when everything seemed calm. “The heroes were at their posts, ready for any hostilities. Others were taking their turn to rest according to the rotation of duty… An armoured car was camouflaged in the fields. You might not know what the olive groves, hideouts and tunnels are like but anyone who has been here knows that it is possible to hide a whole house in the groves. And this is always their way, like mice in burrows…

“The booby trapped vehicle approached the checkpoint. The forces stationed there opened fire using 23mm guns and RPGs. Due to its heavy armour it was able to come close before it was detonated… Anyone who knows what a vehicle laden with a ton of TNT or C4 can do to a whole apartment block even from 100 metres away can imagine the scene. Then came mortar fire from the fields and the blasts of RPGs against the checkpoint. In seconds all the men were at their posts and responded fiercely to the attacks.

“Twelve vehicles carrying arms and Islamic State dogs appeared from all directions and encircled the checkpoint. I heard Commander Al-Mansi call out to nearby checkpoints in a strong and steady voice, ‘Send support. We’re under attack.’

“He received the response, ‘Stand firm, hero. Support is on the way!’

“He answered, ‘Yes, Sir. We will fight to our last bullet and our last breath.’

“Support arrived in record time. It was the first time Apaches were sent in to help the ground forces. The army has changed its training strategy and I saw the results with my own eyes that day. The Apaches and the F-16 arrived along with the ground forces. I will never forget the courage shown by the ground forces in the Rafah arena. They found that all the roads leading to the checkpoint had been mined so they left their armoured vehicles and raced to join their colleagues on foot, desperate to help their comrades…

“The Islamic State dogs fled, taking as many of their dead as they could. The aircraft pursued them into the fields, destroying eight of their vehicles. We inflicted heavy losses on them, thank God. Our military’s electronic surveillance teams picked up a signal from one calling for help and saying they had lost 73 men…

“The courage of our heroes thwarted their plans, just as happened in 2015. God is witness to the truth of my words. May God bless all of Egypt’s heroes.”

Many poignant stories emerged at the funerals. The deeply moving ceremonies were attended by thousands of mourners. Whatever the distance separating the services, whether in Sohag, Daqahleya, Kafr Al-Sheikh, Gharbeya, Ismailia, Fayoum, Sharqeya, Minya, Alexandria, Assiut, Beheira, Damietta or Menoufeya — there was a single theme. The mourners had gathered to bid farewell to a hero who had performed with honour in defence of his nation. Some funerals evolved into angry demonstrations against terrorism and terrorist organisations. From the processions resounded cries of “we die for Egypt, long live Egypt” and chants condemning Qatar and Turkey, state sponsors of terrorism in the region.

The mother of one Rafah hero, Abdel-Gawad Abdel-Alim Naim, 22 years old, from a village in Kafr Al-Sheikh, said that in her last phone call with her son he asked her to pray for him because he sensed that he was going to die soon and this was the last time they would speak. He asked to be buried next to his father.

Mahmoud Hassan, uncle of Tarek Mohamed Ibrahim from a village on the outskirts of Luxor, said that he hoped the government would make it possible for him to volunteer for the army so that he could avenge his nephew.

General Nagi Shuhud, military advisor at the Higher Nasser Military Academy, told Al-Ahram Weekly: “These epic stories of our heroes and their families epitomise the true nature of Egyptians, and of the creed they share. They speak of the spirit of self-sacrifice in defence of our land, honour and faith. The Armed Forces are the arm that defends the body of the nation. It never wearies or slackens in the performance of its duty. The actions of Al-Mansi and his men add to those of their predecessors, a record that stretches back to the first nation to cradle human civilisation.”

 “I myself saw this spirit in action during the 1973 War. From the very moment that the signal was given to start crossing the Suez Canal the heroes of the battle raced to outpace one another so as to be in the front lines of those liberating the nation. I saw it again among my colleagues on the committee to regain Taba, a tiny piece of our territory barely larger than a square kilometre. I’ve seen it all again in the scenes of self-sacrifice in Sinai in the battle against terrorism, and I see it in the families who raise their sons to be heroes prepared to die to defend this nation in the battle against terrorism. They are protecting Sinai which is being fought over as part of the project for an alternative Palestine. That will never happen. But I can say this: we are fighting a tougher battle than the one to liberate our land in 1973.”

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