Operations Against Hasm Continue but Security Forces Still Face Challenges

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 17 Issue: 8

(source: alaraby.co.uk)

Egyptian security forces killed seven alleged Hasm militants in a shootout that left one police officer wounded in Giza province, according to a statement made by the Ministry of Interior on March 7. [1] This latest incident underscores the continued threat Hasm militants pose to mainland Egypt.

According to the statement released by the country’s official TV network, Egypt’s police killed three Hasm members while they were driving a truck containing improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The exchange of fire occurred when the truck was approaching a police checkpoint stationed at the ring road near Giza province (Mada Misr, March 7).

The three militants had fled an apartment in the Sixth of October city (a city in the Giza governorate) where seven militants were hiding. In a preemptive attack, security forces tracked them, raided the stronghold, and exchanged fire with the seven alleged members. Four were killed there, while the other three fled the scene and were killed in the explosive-laden truck (Albawabh News, March 7).

Egypt has labeled the Hasm movement as a militant wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. The brotherhood is an Islamist group listed as a terrorist organization since the military, backed by mass protests, overthrew Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

The Hasm movement came to the surface after launching its militant operations in mid-2016 in the aftermath of the murder of Mahmoud Abdel Hameed Sadek, head of investigations of the Tamya district in the governorate of Fayoum, located 100 kilometers (62 miles) southwest of Cairo. The province has a reputation as fertile soil for extremists, including Omar Abdel Rahman, known in the West as the Blind Sheikh (Al-Youm Al-Sabae, July 16, 2016).

In August 2016, Hasm claimed responsibility for the attempted assassination of Egypt’s former Grand Mufti Sheikh Ali Gomaa, which occurred while he was entering a mosque in Sixth of October city to preach Friday prayer sermon. One of Gomaa’s body guards was injured in an exchange of fire with masked members of Hasm (Al-Youm Al-Sabae, August 5, 2016).

Hasm carried out its largest bombing on a police checkpoint in Haram Street in Giza, which claimed the lives of six police personnel and injured three others in December 2016  (Misr Al-Arabia December 9, 2016). In November of the same year, the militant group also claimed responsibility for the attempted assassination of judge Ahmed Aboul Fotouh. A car bomb targeting Foutouh was detonated near his home in Nasr City (Al-Watan, November 5, 2016)

One of Hassm’s most successful operations came in October 2017, when the group claimed responsibility for detonating an IED outside of Myanmar’s embassy in Cairo. The attack was in retaliation for Myanmar’s military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims (Al-Hayat, October 2, 2017).

Unlike Islamic State in Sinai, or Wilayat (province) Sinai, Hasm has been targeting Egypt’s high-profile figures in the judiciary and police in the country’s mainland. The peak of its attacks occurred after its launch in 2016, and after a year of intensive counterterror operations, the group was weakened to the level that it no longer posed a major threat to Egypt’s security apparatus.

Security forces have killed and arrested dozens of alleged Hasm members since November 2016. Hasm, however, is still considered by many experts to be the largest militant group in Egypt’s mainland. Over the past several months, the group has carried out multiple attacks that have made it particularly well known while other militant organizations have faded out.

The fact that the police have foiled several attacks by Hasm indicates that counterterrorism strategies appear to be working, to an extent. Yet, it is unlikely that the group will be completely eradicated soon, largely due to geographical complications. Unlike Wilayat Sinai, whose strongholds and cross-border networks are easily tracked by the military, Hasm members are embedded and live in urban and densely populated neighborhoods. As such, police raids and counterterror operations must be carried out with strict procedures to capture or kill the targets while averting civilian injuries.

Understanding that Egypt’s militant groups are interconnected in both Sinai and the mainland, the Egyptian military has recently demolished ten tunnels connecting North Sinai with Gaza Strip, aiming to dry up arms smuggling channels that fuel the capacity of Wilayat Sinai militants in North Sinai as well as other groups such as Hasm in the mainland. As part of the campaign, fuel, vehicles, and IED-making materials were found in the tunnels (Masrawy, March 11).

Most recently, Egypt’s military issued a detailed statement, profiling its counterterror operations in which 46 suspected militants across the country had been killed and another 100 were arrested and 204 explosive charges were detonated in north and central Sinai. The statement also reported that the military destroyed 15 militant strongholds (Egyptian Ministry of Defense, March 11).

As a result of the continuous military’s crackdown on militant groups across the country, Hasm’s activities have waned since the end of 2017. Successful operations against Wilayat Sinai have also impacted the morale of other militant groups, making them more cautious to adopt violent tactics. Yet, to completely eradicate militancy activities, which is a necessary step to create a stable climate for investments and economic growth, the military’s counterterror campaign needs a broader contribution from civil society. The gap between Egyptian society and the security apparatus is partly caused by economic malaise as well as the increasing restrictions on freedom of expression and speech, which isolate civil society from the military’s counterterror efforts and negatively affects grassroots opposition to militancy.


[1] See video of Ministry of Interior’s statement https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHthvcsvLhs