Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1370, (23-29 November 2017)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1370, (23-29 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

One-on-one with a terrorist

Last week’s televised interview with an Ansar Al-Islam terrorist contained few revelations, writes Ahmed Eleiba

A still photo of Al-Mesmari’s interview on Al-Hayat channel
A still photo of Al-Mesmari’s interview on Al-Hayat channel

Abdel-Rehim Al-Mesmari, the only surviving member of the terrorist cell responsible for the Al-Wahhat attack in the Western Desert, was interviewed last week by Emadeddin Adeeb on the Al-Hayat satellite channel show Infirad (Exclusive).
The terrorist attack on the Oases Road, 150km west of Giza, resulted in the death of 16 police officers and conscripts. Ansar Al-Islam claimed their responsibility for the operation.
During the interview Al-Mesmari shed light on the group’s ideology and plans of action and gave details on the formation, training and weapons of Ansar Al-Islam.  
Nageh Ibrahim, a former leader of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and an expert on Islamist movements, told Al-Ahram Weekly that Adeeb’s interview with Al-Mesmari suggested the group had attracted IS and Al-Qaeda recruits keen to carry weapons and denounce others as apostates.
“They don’t appear to understand the Quran when it says killing a Muslim or non-Muslim is forbidden. They appear to be living outside of time.”
The interview revealed how the absence of any central authority and the abundance of weapons in Libya made it easy to recruit new members. The group’s ability to recruit in Egypt, however, had been severely hampered by tight security measures. Al-Mesmari said it was difficult to infiltrate Egypt’s cities which is why the group’s members had remained in the desert waiting for supplies. Ansar Al-Islam’s goal, however, had been to establish a base from which to execute terrorist operations in the cities.
Al-Mesmari said that the group’s aim was to destroy the Egyptian state and establish a caliphate, though he conceded to achieve this required a far larger organisation, such as IS, which commands many more operatives and weapons.
The group’s ideology, as related by Al-Mesmari, was confused. The US was a target, he said, because of what he called its anti-Islamic policies, and another of the group’s goals was to liberate Jerusalem. In the meantime, however, it was focused on battling the regime in Egypt to establish a caliphate though the group believed that, according to Sharia, it is better to practise jihad abroad.
According to Al-Mesmari, the group targeted police and army personnel in line with the Al-Qaeda diktat that security forces, rather than civilians, should be the terrorists’ target of choice.
Al-Mesmari revealed that Ansar Al-Islam was a cluster cell, comprising 14 members, and not the large organisation the group had claimed in the statement it issued following the Al-Wahhat attack.  
Brigadier General Khaled Okasha, a member of the National Council to Combat Terrorism, told Al-Ahram Weekly the interview had revealed how members of terrorist groups change their allegiances freely between IS, Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Five terrorists from Hasm, and by extension the Brotherhood, had joined Ansar Al-Islam according to Al-Mesmari.
“It appears these organisations are porous. We no longer have strictly IS, Al-Qaeda or Brotherhood units. It is also clear acquiring logistical materials is relatively easy,” said Okasha.
According to Al-Mesmari, Ansar Al-Islam was equipped with medium and heavy weaponry, including surface-to-air missiles, RPGs and Kalashnikovs. The abundance of arms is facilitated by the chaos in Libya, with all the group’s weapons being acquired in Egypt’s Western neighbour.
 Al-Mesmari provided little information about the group’s funding beyond saying money came through “charitable donations and spoils of battle”.
Libya, says Okasha, “is fast becoming home to a plethora of terrorist groups, a process that is accelerating in the wake of IS’s failure in Iraq and Syria”.
During the interview Al-Mesmari shed light on the presence of terrorist groups in Libya, and around Derna in particular. The area, which is adjacent to Egypt’s western border, has become an Al-Qaeda stronghold after IS withdrew in 2015 and regrouped around Sirte.
According to Al-Mesmari groups in Libya focus on three fronts: Confronting incoming groups such as IS; confronting the Libyan army led by Khalifa Haftar in the western area and taking part in foreign confrontations, sometimes working alongside Morabitoun, the terrorist group led by former Egyptian army officer Hisham Ashmawi.
The Egyptian presence in the group is limited yet effective. Al-Mesmari said 12 Egyptians worked alongside Emad Abdel-Hamid (aka Abu Hatem), the group’s leader in Derna. Al-Mesmari added he joined Abu Hatem’s cell because it was the most organised.  
Sobhi Eseila, a researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “even though the interview was a scoop the outcome was the opposite of what was intended, which was to confront takfiri ideology and expose it for what it is”.
“The interview gave a terrorist a chance to discuss his ideas as if they were normal. The interviewer didn’t provoke or engage with Al-Mesmari, instead he left him to present his ideas without any form of interrogation. Al-Mesmari appeared confident in himself and in the ideas he was espousing so freely.”
“The public was furious with the interview, and used social media networks to express their anger.”

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