Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1366, (26 October - 1 November 2017)
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1366, (26 October - 1 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Bloody Friday

Sixteen policemen have been killed in confrontations with terrorists in the Western Desert, reports Ahmed Morsy

Bloody Friday
Bloody Friday

Sixteen policemen were killed and 13 injured in Friday’s shootout with terrorists during a security raid on a militant hideout on the Oases Road, almost 150 kilometres south of Cairo, according to the Interior Ministry. A number of terrorists were also killed or injured.

On Saturday Prosecutor-General Nabil Sadek ordered the State Security Prosecution to hold an investigation into the attack.

While news of the clashes was circulated by news agencies, foreign TV channels and on social media early on Friday evening local TV channels did not broadcast any details of the incident before the Ministry of Interior released its first statement late on Friday.

The statement said that as security forces were approaching a hideout identified by intelligence sources terrorists opened fire resulting in the death and injury of “a number” of policemen and terrorists.

Conflicting reports about the number of casualties emerged on Saturday. Citing unidentified security sources, BBC Arabic said the number of police casualties in the operation was 50. Reuters reported 52 policemen had died while AP reported 55. 

The Interior Ministry released a second, detailed statement on Saturday, saying 16 policemen — 11 police officers, four conscripts and one sergeant — were killed in the shootout and 13 policemen — four police officers and nine conscripts — were injured. It added that security forces were combing the area in search of a lost officer, Captain Mohamed Al-Hayes.

Two audio leaks circulated on social media platforms the day following the attack. The first purported to be from a doctor who recounted the testimonies of the injured policemen he treated after the clashes. The second was assumed to be from the communications between a conscript in the battlefield and the operating room’s officials shortly after the clashes began. Both suggested the security forces had found themselves in a difficult position as a result of their unfamiliarity with the area and poor telecommunications which prevented them from calling for reinforcements.

In a third statement, issued on Sunday, the Interior Ministry suggested the audio leaks were fakes.

“The source of the audio recordings that have been circulating on social media and aired by some talk shows is unknown. They contain unrealistic details… Circulating these recordings causes confusion and spreads frustration and reflects a lack of professional responsibility,” said the statement.

It was issued after a popular talk show aired one of the recordings.

“How could the media give space to guests and sources analysing clashes that were still ongoing? All the media coverage was a mish-mash of personal judgements based on inaccurate information,” security expert Major General Fouad Allam told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Prime time talk show anchors blamed the Ministry of Interior for not providing any details of the attack on Friday night.

While Allam says the delay in providing any official statement was because the clashes remained ongoing, Samir Farag, a former head of the army’s Department of Morale Affairs, says the delay in offering information was responsible, at least in part, for the poor reporting.

“The ministry’s delay in providing details created a space for speculation,” Farag said in an interview with CBC. “The ministry should have issued a short briefing early on Friday followed by detailed updates.”

Failure to do this, says Farag, meant “the speculations and analysis by unidentified sources published by foreign news agencies were taken as credible information”.

The State Information Service (SIS) condemned Reuters and the BBC for “inaccurate coverage” of the clashes, saying they had made “grave professional mistakes” by relying on unnamed security sources. SIS also criticised Reuters for using the word “militants” instead of “terrorists” in the English translation of the ministry’s statement. 

No terrorist group has claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack.

It is not the first time the Western Desert has been the scene of terrorist attacks. In May 2017 Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, which has changed it name to the Sinai Province, claimed responsibility for an attack targeting a bus carrying Coptic Christians to the Monastery of St Samuel the Confessor in Minya governorate. The attack left 30 dead and dozens injured. In the same month four soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing. 

In January 2017 terrorists attacked Al-Naqab police checkpoint in Al-Wadi Al-Gadid killing eight policemen.

On Monday the army announced it had foiled an attempt to smuggle arms and ammunition across the border with Libya.

Egypt has intensified efforts to secure the border with Libya. In an interview with France 24 on Monday President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said: “We have destroyed 1,200 vehicles loaded with arms, ammunition and fighters in the last two and a half years.”

Earlier this month the state of emergency, first imposed in April, was extended for three months.

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