Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1367, (2 - 8 November 2017)
Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Issue 1367, (2 - 8 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Shoring up security

The repercussions of the terrorist attack on the Oases Road continue, writes Ahmed Eleiba


President Al-Sisi visits Al-Hayes at the Armed Forces Hospital
President Al-Sisi visits Al-Hayes at the Armed Forces Hospital

On Tuesday missing Captain Mohamed Al-Hayes was found. Al-Hayes was lost in action two weeks ago during the confrontation with terrorists on Oases Road which left 16 policemen dead.

Until Al-Ahram Weekly went to press on Tuesday no statement had been released explaining the circumstances of Al-Hayes’ recovery.

The army’s official spokesman did, however, release a statement saying the Air Force had carried out strikes on the hideouts of the terrorists responsible for the Oases Road attack in which Al-Hayes was lost.

a still photo of the air strike targeting terrorists

The air strikes targeted a mountainous area west of Fayoum close to the Oases Road and resulted in the destruction of three four-wheel drive vehicles loaded with weapons and explosives. According to the statement, the air strikes also “resulted in the deaths of a large number of terrorists”. The statement concluded by saying the Air Force, in cooperation with security forces, is still searching the area for fugitives.

A number of executive decrees relating to security and counter-terrorism were issued this week in response to the terrorist attack on the Oases Road. The decisions were taken following a meeting chaired by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and attended by the ministers of defence and interior, the director of General Intelligence and the new Chief-of-Staff Lieutenant General Mohamed Farid Hegazi.

The appointment of Hegazi as chief-of-staff was the subject of the first decree issued by the president in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. Born in May 1954, Hegazi graduated from the Military Academy in 1977 after which he obtained a Master’s degree in military science from the Higher Military College at the Nasser Military Academy. A member of the infantry, Hegazi graduated through all the corps’ command posts, eventually being promoted to commander of the Mechanised Infantry Division.

Hegazi also served as secretary-general at the Ministry of Defence and, later, as assistant defence minister.

By virtue of his position as secretary-general at the Defence Ministry he became secretary of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) when it was restructured following the 30 June Revolution.

A second presidential decree appointed Hegazi as advisor to the president for strategic planning and crisis management.

The decrees were announced in a separate statement to that released by the presidency on the Oases Road attack.

Presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef said that during the meeting President Al-Sisi listened to detailed reports on the incident offered his condolences to the families of the victims.

In his statement Youssef offered no explanation for the decrees affecting the security agencies and the chief-of-staff. He did, however, praise the efforts of the security agencies and the Armed Forces in the unconventional war against terrorism during the last four years.

Following the meeting the Interior Minister issued a number of decrees dismissing the director of Special Forces Operations and various officials at the National Security Agency. He appointed Major General Mahmoud Tawfik as the director of the National Security Agency, replacing Major General Mahmoud Shaarawi. Tawfik already has experience in the national security sector as well as in other Interior Ministry departments and is best known as one of the Interior Ministry’s key officials in the fight against radical Islamist groups.

According to Khaled Okasha, a member of the National Council for the Fight against Terrorism, the fact that the presidential and ministerial decrees affected senior ranks of security and military personnel concerned with terrorism indicates that “there was a negative assessment on how the Oases Road operation was handled and that some accounting had to be done.”

The appointment of a new chief-of-staff was met with speculation in unofficial circles, especially as neither the agencies concerned nor military spokesman released any details. Hegazi’s predecessor — Mahmoud Hegazi — served as chief-of-staff since 2014 when the Armed Forces leadership was restructured following then defence minister Al-Sisi’s decision to run as president. Generally, the term of chief-of-staff does not extend beyond five years. Since 1990 lieutenant generals Salah Halabi, Magdi Hatata and Hamdi Wahiba each served five years. The same would probably have applied to Sami Anan but given the 25 January Revolution and SCAF’s assumption of the management of the country Anan was retained in his post for an additional two years. He was succeeded by General Sidki Sobhi who served two years and who was appointed defence minister.

It is widely assumed the Islamic State (IS), following its defeats in Iraq and Syria, is attempting to re-establish itself in Libya, taking advantage of porous borders and the movement of returnees. IS is thought to be working to alleviate the pressure on its affiliates in Sinai by launching attacks along different fronts, most notably the Western Desert.

The Oases Road incident has to be seen in this larger context. Information that has come to light from the military tribunal hearings into the case of the cell led by Amr Saad Abbas, aka the “Daesh of Upper Egypt Cell”, support this analysis. According to the confessions of one of the defendants — Walid Abul-Magd — this Upper Egyptian cell offered refuge and support to IS operatives who had come from Libya and whose purpose was to alleviate the pressures on the organisation that now calls itself the Sinai Province.

Commentators suggest the most recent security assessments have concluded that the performance of the security agencies was not commensurate with these latest developments and the Oases Road incident was a consequence. The statement issued by the presidency hints at this when it stresses the need to exert utmost efforts to apprehend the terrorist elements who perpetrated the attack and to intensify security and military efforts to secure the border against infiltration.

In the last two weeks the army has launched two attacks against terrorist convoys attempting to cross the Western Desert. These operations have proceeded in tandem with the army’s search operations in the mountainous environs surrounding the site of the incident. An aerial assault against the one convoy destroyed eight four-wheel drive vehicles carrying weapons, ammunition and explosives and killed all terrorists in the vehicles. The second operation intercepted six four-wheel drive vehicles attempting to smuggle in arms and ammunitions across the border with Libya. Again, all vehicles were destroyed and the terrorists accompanying them killed.

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