Saturday,23 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1391, (26 April - 2 May 2018)
Saturday,23 February, 2019
Issue 1391, (26 April - 2 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Decapitating the snake

Nasser Abu Zaqoul, the Islamic State’s leader in central Sinai, was killed last week. Ahmed Eleiba examines the history of one of the peninsula’s most wanted men

Decapitating the snake
Decapitating the snake

The Armed Forces announced that Nasser Abu Zaqoul, head of the Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis organisation in central Sinai, was killed during an exchange of fire with a Third Field Army raiding party.  

According to Military Spokesman Tamer Al-Rifaai, Abu Zaqoul was found to have an automatic rifle, two hand grenades, a large quantity of ammunition, six automatic rifle magazines and a walkie-talkie in his possession. 

Abu Zaqoul was the most wanted terrorist in central Sinai. With a record of terrorist activity dating back to the Taba attack in 2004, Abu Zaqoul performed a range of logistic roles. He helped to hide Khamis Al-Malahi, founder of the Tawhid and Jihad organisation in 2001, before he was killed in a police raid in 2006.

Abu Zaqoul, a member of central Sinai’s Al-Tiyaha tribe, was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison but managed to escape after four years, during the January 2011 Revolution. While in prison he was recruited into a group of former Qotbists who called themselves the Najoun Min Al-Nar (Saved from Hell), embracing their takfiri ideology.

Following his escape he became one of the founders of Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis. When the group declared allegiance to Islamic State (IS) and changed its name to Sinai Province Abu Zaqoul became the organisation’s leader in central Sinai. 

Abu Zaqoul was responsible for securing funds for the group. He did this by staging armed robberies on post offices and on jewellery stores owned by Copts in Ismailia and the Delta, as well as hijacking armoured cash transport vehicles.

Abu Zaqoul is one of the most significant terrorist leaders to have been eliminated in the course of Comprehensive Operation Sinai (COS) 2018. He had long boasted of taking part in terrorist operations in north as well as central Sinai.

Curiously, IS did not commemorate Abu Zaqoul as it has done with other leaders of the organisation. The 128th edition of the IS-affiliated Al-Nabaa newspaper, which appeared several days after the raid in which Abu Zaqoul was killed, made no mention of his death. Yet it did report an attack against a security facility in Al-Qasima in central Sinai, an operation in which Abu Zaqoul was involved little more than a week before he was killed.

Security experts say Abu Zaqoul’s death will further degrade the capabilities of the Sinai-based terrorist group. His name has been added to a growing list of first tier operatives who have been eliminated. They include Abu Doaa Al-Ansari (killed in August 2016), Abu Salem Salma Al-Hamdin, aka Anas Al-Ansari (March 2017) and Mohamed Khalil Mohareb, aka Abu Mounir, a commander of the Tawhid and Jihad organisation who was killed in a confrontation with security forces in late 2013.

Brigadier General Khaled Okasha, a member of the National Council for Combating Terrorism and Extremism, told Al-Ahram Weekly that Sinai Province/IS has now lost the strategic positions on the ground that it depended on in Sinai. The organisation, he said, is buckling under the massive military assault on its infrastructure and supplies, especially its network of weapon depots and hideouts.

On another front, the military spokesman denied claims made in a Human Rights Watch (HRW) statement on Sinai. On Monday HRW alleged that COS 2018 has left up to 420,000 residents in four northeastern cities in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. 

Al-Rifaai said the claims were unfounded and based on unreliable sources.

The HRW statement noted that the military campaign included restricting the movement of people and goods across most of North Sinai and claimed that residents were suffering from shortages of food, medicine, cooking gas and gasoline.

“The government should provide sufficient food for all residents and allow relief organisations such as the Egyptian Red Crescent to immediately provide resources to address local residents’ critical needs,” said the statement. 

Al-Rifaai told military correspondents that the Armed Forces provide Sinai residents with all the strategic commodities they need and coordinates efforts with all concerned ministers to ensure medicines and other essential goods are available.

“The Armed Forces not only secures the delivery of fresh food and dairy cargos to residents but is also involved in the distribution of essential provisions,” he said.   

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