Sunday, January 26, 2014

26-Jan-14: Sinai's terror problems are now Cairo's nightmares

Police inspect bomb crater after attack on
Cairo Security Directorate building,
downtown Cairo, Friday [Image Source: Reuters]
For the past few years, we have devoted dozens of posts here to the rise of terror in the Sinai peninsula and what this might mean for Israel's security.

Things have gotten better in some ways and worse in others during the past few months. The authorities in Cairo have committed significant forces to the area to reimpose a degree of order, including shutting down many of the tunnels that deliver goods into and out of Gaza, but that also provide Gaza's terror forces with armaments and facilitate interaction among the jihad-mind Islamists on both sides of the Egypt/Gaza border. And there has been a scaling up of the terrorist presence not only in Sinai itself but now - after the overthrow of the Morsi/Moslem Brotherhood regime - in the cities of Egypt.

This past Friday was a very bad day for the Egyptians. An analysis by David Barnett that appears today on the website The National Interest ["Can Egypt Handle Ansar Bait al Maqdis?"], provides a penetrating overview. Barnett is a research associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where he focuses on Salafi jihadists in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Some extracts:
  • "Shortly after 6:30am in Egypt on Friday, a massive car bomb detonated outside the Cairo Security Directorate. The attack killed at least four people and wounded more than 70, Egypt’s Health Ministry said. 
  • "In the hours that followed at least three additional explosions were reported in the Cairo area with reports of two more fatalities and scores wounded.
  • "In the immediate aftermath of the first attack, some Egypt observers, myself included, said the car bombing was likely the work of the Sinai-based jihadist group Ansar Bait al Maqdis (ABM). In a statement released to jihadist forums Friday night, ABM claimed responsibility for all of the attacks...
  • "With crowds calling for the Muslim Brotherhood’s “execution" after Friday’s attack... it makes sense politically for the government to blame supporters of fallen Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi, who continue to partake in efforts to delegitimize the new regime. This is why Cairo, which believes it is in an existential battle, declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization shortly after the Mansoura bombing [we reported on that here: "24-Dec-13: Violent chaos in Egypt escalates to more chaotic and considerably more violent"].
  • "Cairo’s current approach, in other words, may not be properly addressing the serious jihadist threat to Egypt that was once clearly limited to the Sinai Peninsula, but has now reached across the Suez Canal. Recent admissions by Egyptian officials indicate that Sinai jihadists have been avoiding security sweeps and reaching the Nile Delta and Cairo, among other locations. This, along with Friday’s attacks, raises serious questions as to whether enough resources are being deployed to deal with Egypt’s growing jihadist problem, particularly as these forces display an ability to adapt to ongoing Egyptian military operations.
In the hours since the article appeared, events in Sinai have heated up still further.
  • Twenty-nine people were killed during anti-government marches on Saturday [Reuters], three years to the day after President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown. 
  • An Egyptian military helicopter has crashed and its crew is missing in the northern Sinai Peninsula where its forces are battling Islamic militants. This happened near the Sinai village of el-Kharouba. 
  • And in the city of Suez, a car bomb exploded outside a Central Security Forces (CSF) camp, also on Saturday [Al Ahram's Online website], injuring 16 people and underscoring the sense that events are spinning out of control.

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