Clashes in Egypt with Sinai Bedouin Mujahideen
Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 18
Egyptian police have spent the weeks following the July 23 bombings of Sharm al-Sheikh searching for bomb suspects and others involved in attacks. On September 28, they appear to have made progress, given the announcement that police forces shot and killed Moussa Mohamed Salem Badran in a remote mountainous area in the Sinai peninsula about 60 km (35 miles) south of El-Arish, said to be the hometown of several suspects (www.alwafd.org). Badran is believed to have played a significant role in the Sharm al-Sheikh bombings which left 67 people dead. Two more suspects, Khalid Musaid Salem and Tilib Murdi Soliman were announced dead with a third, Yunis Mohammed al-Alian, taken into custody. The confrontation occurred as the result of an ambush organized by Egyptian security, following a tip that the men were on their way to meet Badran (www.asharqalawsat.com).
The armed confrontations come in the wake of a massive security drive, following a series of embarrassing incidents that undermined the Egyptian authorities’ claims to have cleaned up the group responsible for the Sinai attacks (security authorities believe the group responsible for the Sharm al-Sheikh bombings were also involved in the Red Sea resort bombing of Taba in October 2004). A day after Minister of Interior Habib el-Adli announced the security success, a roadside explosive package, claimed by the “Mujahideen of Egypt,” (one of the groups laying claim to the bomb at Sharm al-Sheikh and explosions in Cairo) injured two Canadian peacekeepers in northern Sinai. Following this Egyptian security cracked down harder on August 22 with thousands of police deployed to the south of El-Arish. A press ban has prevented news details emerging, but one indication of the severity of the clash is the reported death of two senior Egyptian army officers.
The violent activity in Sinai has presented a puzzle to security analysts. The claim by the Mujahideen of Egypt has yet to be authenticated and the more familiar name of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which also claimed the Taba attacks, is also problematic. Their claim for the August 19 Aqaba bombings posted on the Risalat al-Umma forum (www.alommh.net/forums) was contradicted by two separate, subsequent claims. The first of these was made by al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq; the second from the son of the eponymous Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, who in an interview with the Saudi daily al-Riyadh, claimed that the group had nothing to do with his father, other than using a pious name “to dress their sordid acts with a positive image” (www.alriyadh.com). (Abdullah Azzam was a Palestinian Islamist considered to be the original organizer of foreign Muslim volunteers fighting the Soviet invasion. He was killed in Afghanistan in 1989.)
Cairo attempted to cast suspicions on foreign elements early on, but later admitted that five Pakistanis wanted for questioning at the time had no connection with the incidents. That the bombers are probably home-grown is focusing attention on the relationship between events in Palestine and reactions in Egypt. This ties in with growing fears of al-Qaeda affiliate groups building a presence in the Palestinian Territories—as evidenced by statements affirming this fact from Hamas. Cairo naturally fears that the rise of Hamas, and Islamic militancy more generally, in the Gaza Strip will re-energize Egypt’s own Islamists.
Suspects among the Sinai Peninsula’s indigenous Bedouin tribes were picked-up following reports of suspicious activity in the mountainous interior of the peninsula before the Sharm al-Sheikh blasts. Members of these communities are implicated in the lucrative smuggling of weaponry into Gaza. With the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Egypt has had to significantly intensify security on its border, inevitably leading to increased tensions with the smugglers. This—coupled with the draconian response to the Sinai bombings, with heavy-handed suppression and mass arrests—appears to be spawning a vicious cycle of antagonism and threatens to consolidate common ground between organized crime and Islamist militancy.