Is the Hasm Movement the Future of Militancy in Egypt?

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 15 Issue: 18

Hasm Movement logo (Source:

Egypt’s Hasm Movement has released a review of its activities over the course of the first year of its operations. From July 16, 2016 to July 16, 2017, Hasm claims to have killed 27 members of Egypt’s “interior military militias” and wounded 56 more. In a detailed press release, complete with info-graphics, Hasm claims to have employed a range of different tactics to target Egyptian police officers and members of its domestic security. [1] These tactics include brazen but well-planned point blank assassinations, and the use of vehicle born improvised explosive devices (VBIED) and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The numbers cited in what Hasm termed its year-end review — if accurate — are significant, given that the group’s membership is likely limited to less than a hundred individuals.

What is striking about the group is its disciplined use of violence and the specificity of its targets — to date there are no reports that the group has killed any civilians. It is consistently targeting members of the Egyptian police, the security services working under the aegis of the interior ministry and the judiciary. So far, the group has been careful not to target members of the Egyptian army.

This stands in marked contrast to the Egyptian government’s response to rising levels of militancy across the country. Egypt-based and international human rights organizations continue to accuse the Egyptian police and security services of illegally detaining suspected members of militant organizations and the banned Muslim Brotherhood, and of carrying out extra-judicial executions. [2] In August, the U.S. government denied Egypt $95.7 million in aid, and delayed another $195 million, citing Egypt’s failure to make progress on human rights and democratic reforms (al-Jazeera, August 23).

The Egyptian government’s harsh and often less than well-calibrated response to militancy, combined with what are largely intractable demographic and economic pressures, have created an ideal operational space for insurgent organizations like the Hasm Movement.

In contrast with Islamic State (IS) in Egypt, the Hasm Movement’s propaganda de-prioritizes religion and emphasizes the group’s nationalist aims. Its relatively moderate religious views and nationalistic focus, combined with a disciplined use of violence, may well represent the leading edge of a new kind of militancy in Egypt. Militancy that specifically targets what some see as a corrupt and unresponsive government may well flourish in post-Arab Spring Egypt.

Gaining Momentum

The Hasm Movement’s year-end review points to an organization that has not only survived for a year but has also grown. Given the fact that Egypt’s domestic intelligence services are both efficient and effective, the Hasm Movement’s ability not only to expand but also to continue to carry out relatively well-planned attacks — many of which have appeared in the Egyptian press — is notable.

In two of its most recent attacks, the Hasm Movement targeted and killed a senior police officer, Lt. Colonel Ahmed Hussein, and struck a police vehicle in the Cairo suburb of Maadi (Daily News Egypt, June 12). Both attacks appear to have been well planned. The assassination on Lt. Colonel Hussein follows a pattern of attacks whereby senior officers are watched for days — sometimes weeks — by operatives who record their target’s daily routines. The attack on the police truck in Maadi killed the officer in charge of the vehicle and injured another officer and three conscripts. The Hasm Movement claims that it used an IED that was triggered as the target vehicle went past. The Egyptian government maintains that militants shot at the gas tank of the vehicle.

These attacks follow months of almost weekly operations conducted by Hasm-linked operatives that have targeted members of the police, security services and the judiciary. The attacks remain concentrated around greater Cairo, where the density of the urban environment facilitates the surveillance of targets and the exfiltration of Hasm operatives. The same dense urban environment allows the Hasm Movement an abundance of opportunities to vet and recruit new operatives with the specialized skills it requires.

Hasm’s success at targeting ranking officials guarded by security details, and its ability to evade Egypt’s pervasive active and passive human-based surveillance systems, indicate that Hasm operatives are themselves adept at surveillance and counter-surveillance.

The Hasm Movement also claims that it has targeted police with IEDs and VBIEDs. If true, this suggests the movement has recruited individuals with expertise in explosives. Thus far the group’s use of explosives has been disciplined and well-thought out in terms of avoiding civilian casualties. Attacks using explosives, such as the recent one on a police truck in Maadi, are carried out late at night and seem to involve devices designed to minimize the danger to surrounding civilians (Daily News Egypt, June 19).

The leadership of the Hasm Movement clearly recognizes that avoiding civilian casualties and limiting its operations to targeting the police and domestic security services are what sets it apart from other militant groups like IS in Egypt, which frequently targets civilians both Muslim and Christian.

Similarly, Egypt’s police are notorious for their often arbitrary use of violence. In the aftermath of the unrest that led to the resignation of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, it was the police that were the subject of antipathy on the part of much of the Egyptian population. During the unrest, police stations and the police themselves were targeted by thousands of Egyptians across the country.

This antipathy has now subsided, but it is still very much a force within Egypt and one the Hasm Movement is keen to tap into; and while it is unlikely the group’s methods will appeal to anything other than a minority of Egyptians, that number may be growing.

Stoking the Fire

On August 24, the Egyptian police announced they had killed two supposedly high-ranking members of the Hasm Movement in a shootout near Wadi el-Natroun, 60 miles northwest of Cairo. (Egypt Independent, August 24). Over recent months the Egyptian authorities claim to have killed dozens of Hasm operatives. If these claims are accurate, then the Hasm Movement has undergone a rapid expansion in the last 12 months and has become effectively self-healing. However, in one of its periodic communiqués, released on July 27, the group disputed the authorities’ claims about the number of operatives killed. [3]

The truth likely lies somewhere between the two narratives. The Egyptian government has frequently exaggerated the number of IS-linked militants that it has killed. At the same time, it is not in the interest of the Hasm Movement to be viewed as an organization that is under increasing pressure from the Egyptian security services.

While the Egyptian government’s claims about killing dozens of Hasm Movement members may be exaggerated, it is true that Egyptian security services have arrested and killed dozens if not hundreds of men who may or may not have ties to militant organizations. Human Rights Watch and other organizations have reported extensively on evidence of summary executions of Egyptians in the Sinai and the disappearance and torture of Egyptian citizens by state security in mainland Egypt (al-Jazeera, April 23; Human Rights Watch, April 25; Human Rights Watch, September 5).

This kind of knee jerk response by the state indicates that it is under increased pressure and that it is finding it increasingly difficult to penetrate and disrupt militant organizations. This may be particularly so with the Hasm Movement ,which draws on a much wider base of support than IS. The Egyptian government’s harsh tactics may well guarantee that the Hasm Movement continues to grow its organization and broaden its support.


It is still too soon to tell whether or not the Hasm Movement will endure and grow in Egypt. If its yearend review is to be believed, then the organization has indeed expanded both its membership and capabilities over the last 12 months. Meanwhile, the government’s claims of killing dozens of Hasm Movement operatives  — even if the numbers are exaggerated — suggests that the group’s network is now so extensive it has become self-healing.

Regardless of whether the Hasm Movement endures or not, the Egyptian government’s less than well-disciplined response to rising levels of militancy in the country combined with ever-increasing demographic and economic pressures guarantees that there will be fertile ground for other organizations like the Hasm Movement to evolve and expand in the coming years.



[1] See: SITE Intelligence Group (July 17, 2017)

[2] See: Amnesty International, “Egypt: ‘Officially, You Do Not Exist’ – Disappeared and Tortures in the Name of Counter-Terrorism,” (July 13, 2016)

[3] See: SITE Intelligence group (July 28, 2017)