Monday,22 October, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1366, (26 October - 1 November 2017)
Monday,22 October, 2018
Issue 1366, (26 October - 1 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

A devious enemy

Experts tell Ahmed Eleiba why so many lives were lost in Friday’s Oases Road police ambush


A devious enemy
A devious enemy

Finding out what happened on Oases Road last Friday when 16 policemen lost their lives is no easy task.

Experts say the nature and theatre of the attack, the types of weapons and tactics used and the extent of the confrontation require an assessment qualitatively different to that undertaken in the case of previous incidents in the Western zone.

The site of the incident is revealing. The rugged terrain and remoteness from main and branch roads were an ideal site for a terrorist hideout. As Brigadier General Khaled Okasha, a security affairs expert and member of the National Council for the Fight against Terrorism, points out, the area is situated centrally enough to serve as a staging ground for attacks in both Upper Egypt and the Delta.

He also points out that a year ago a previous attempt by terrorists to secure a foothold in the area was thwarted with considerable difficulty.

Experts say the terrorists had prepared the site with professionalism. This was evident in the strategic deployment of observation points and scouts, enabling them to detect the approaching force early enough to prepare and launch a surprise attack.

They were both skilled and bold in their use of arms, suggesting a high level of training. They were also numerous: about 100 operatives, according to official estimates. These factors, combined with the fact they occupied higher ground than the approaching security forces, enabled the terrorists to attack the advancing police units.  

According to Okasha, information available to the National Security Agency following the arrest and questioning of terrorist elements in Qalioubeya had identified this area of the Western Desert as a terrorist headquarters. Intelligence also indicated the terrorists there were receiving arms and training.

Maher Farghali, a researcher specialising in terrorist organisations, told Al-Ahram Weekly he had learned from security sources that the police had been alerted to the site when two citizens reported they had been stopped by militants who demanded their IDs and mobile phones before letting them go.

Experts say discovery of the secret yet centrally located camp and fears preparations were underway for terrorist attacks targeting different parts of the country would have forced security forces to act quickly.

The terrorists were well equipped. According to an Interior Ministry statement, they had RPG shoulder-launched anti-tank weapons, explosives and an array of other sophisticated and unconventional weapons. This may help identify which group was behind the attack. The Islamic State and Al-Qaeda both possess such resources.

Okasha and Farghali believe the responsible organisation is likely to be an Al-Qaeda affiliate, most probably Morabitoun which is commanded by the former Egyptian army officer Hisham Ashmawi. Hasm and the host of similar, small groups, most often operate as lone wolves and lack the resources for such an operation.

Okasha and Farghali point out that Morabitoun was most probably behind the Farafra attack in 2014 and the attack on a bus in Minya. Some Egyptian members of Morabitoun are based in Libya, in the Fatayah district of Derna, and further south in a camp belonging to the so-called Army of the Desert led by Moaz Al-Takriti.

A noteworthy aspect of the Bahareya Road incident is that no terrorist organisation has claimed responsibility for it. This raises a number of possibilities. One is that the Morabitoun are adverse to publicity given previous experiences in which the army retaliated by striking bases in Libya.

“There is also an outside chance that Hisham Ashmawi himself was there and needs time to arrange a way to escape across the border,” says Okasha. “If so he may issue a claim of responsibility later on.” 

Another possibility, according to Okasha, is that the operation itself is not over and the responsible organisation is waiting to issue any statement to be better able to wage psychological warfare and post propaganda video footage at some later stage. One of the police officers, Mohamed Al-Hayes, is still missing and may have been captured, to be used by the organisation for propaganda purposes.

Ministry of Interior forces are not equipped to deal with the kind of arms possessed by the terrorists in Bahareya. “Perhaps there was an erroneous assessment on this score,” says Okasha. “Army intervention is called for under such circumstances.”

The army announced on Monday morning that it had intercepted a huge shipment of arms, ammunitions and explosives as it was being smuggled across the Western border.

Combing operations are still in progress in the mountainous terrain surrounding the site of the Bahareya ambush. Several sources have told Al-Ahram Weekly the authorities will be planning a major retaliatory operation against terrorist organisations in the area.

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