Sunday, March 30, 2014

Egypt: Three Brotherhood-Hamas Militants Arrested in Plot to Assassinate Former Field Marshal

According to the Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Rai, three Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood militants who infiltrated into the Sinai from Gaza were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to assassinate former Egyptian Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is running for president in the upcoming April 2014 election.

The three carried a coded letter with instructions to execute the assassination, passed by a senior Muslim Brotherhood official who escaped to Gaza. 

The former Field Marshal deposed the US-supported presidency of Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. The military has since been fighting the Brotherhood and Islamic extremist groups operating in the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt and Hamas have been on such bad terms that Hamas this week called an Egyptian move to shut Gaza crossings a “crime against humanity.” Egypt said it closes the pathways out of fear that terrorists have been smuggling weapons into and out of the Gaza Strip.

Thousands of foreign jihadists were attempting to infiltrate Egypt, stoking fears of a coming destabilization campaign akin to the insurgency in Syria, according to informed Middle Eastern security officials.

The officials warned of a troubling development taking place among the al-Qaeda-linked organizations already inside Egypt. They said there is information the militant groups are forming a de facto chain of command, with alarming coordination between the various jihadist factions embedded around the country. 

COMMENT: Hopefully the Hamas militants who were arrested in the latest plot may shed some light on multilateral information-sharing between Hamas and Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. 

Some Internet al-Qaeda forums have even been discussing the possibility of declaring the Sinai an Islamic emirate.

According to the BBC, the Sinai-based, al-Qaeda-linked terror group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, claimed responsibility for the January 24, 2014 bombing on the police headquarters in Cairo.

Initially, the group was known for launching attacks on Israeli targets and interests, but after the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, it began targeting Egyptian security forces with considerable success.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis actually began operations immediately after the January 2011 Revolution that led to the fall of the country's 30-year-long ruler, former President Hosni Mubarak.

In July 2012 claimed responsibility for the blowing up of a pipeline that exports gas to Israel and Jordan. 

A month later, the group took credit for rockets fired from the Sinai into the southern Israeli resort of Eilat. In September 2012 Ansar Beit al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for attacking an Israeli border patrol.

In one of its most high-profile attacks, the group failed to assassinate Interior Minister Muhammad Ibrahim in September 2013, when his motorcade in Cairo was targeted by a car-bomb attack.

Others include an assault on South Sinai's Security Directorate in October 2013, and an attack the same month on the military intelligence building in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya.

Brotherhood Without Violence, a movement which includes alleged Muslim Brotherhood dissidents, claims Ansar Beit al-Maqdis is the Brotherhood's "military wing,” although such allegations have yet to be confirmed. 

Militants have declared war on Egypt’s military-backed government in the eight months since former Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown.

Moreover, the shooting down of a military helicopter in the Sinai and an IED attack in February 2014 on a tour bus in the Sinai transporting some 30+ South Korean tourists, two of whom were killed and nine other injured. 

The confrontation and the rare deaths of two senior officers in a military raid, is likely to spur an even harsher crackdown by the government.

Security officials said last month that militants killed in a recent Egyptian military operation targeting the terrorist infrastructure in the Sinai included jihadists from Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, suggesting a transnational destabilization effort.

Last month, Germany joined a growing list of countries strongly advising against tourist travel to all regions of the Sinai.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis said that it would specifically target tourists throughout Egypt and actually delivered on its promise when it used an IED to attack a tour bus transporting some 30+ South Koreans, killing two and injuring nine others. An Egyptian driver was also killed in the attack.

I continue to discourage all but ESSENTIAL travel to Egypt, as it is unknown as to where terrorists will strike next or the tactics they will use, as eventually the luck of foreign tourists will run out.

The fact that tourists continue to flock to Egypt, despite travel warnings, continues to give them a wide choice of targets, as even a drive-by shooting against a handful of foreigners will push every other story off the front pages.