This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Egypt Under Siege

"There has been a spread of terrorism both geographically and ideologically across Egypt, and it's a real problem for the country."
"There are multiple and competing jihadi strains in Egypt that are all moving in the same direction. All have similar styles and targets. [If they continue to expand], they will compete with each other for supporters, funding and recruits. And this will drive more and larger attacks."
Zack Gold, Sinai expert, Tel Aviv Institute for National Security Studies

"What the state hasn't faced before are groups that have this same level of sophistication and determination [to carry out attacks]."
"That was the very first time a military checkpoint was actually overrun [July 2014 assault on army checkpoint at the country's Western Desert]."
"The logistics must have have been insane to be able to carry that out. And Ashmawy knows the area very well."
Mokhtar Awad, research associate, Center for American Progress
Aftermath of explosion near the Italian consulate in downtown Cairo

Egyptian authorities have singled out the mastermind of the July 2014 attack that killed over twenty Egyptian soldiers in the remote Western Desert at an army checkpoint. Former Egyptian special forces officer Hisham al-Ashmawy who was expelled by the army in the mid-2000s when he began exhibiting strains of religious radicalization, according to security officials. And his military training gained as an Egyptian army officer is now benefiting the insurgents in the Sinai peninsula.

Just as former Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein's Sunni military leaders have transformed their Iraqi military know-how to steer the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant toward a cohesive military presence gaining from their experience -- dismissed by the U.S.-led invasion that topped Hussein from power became a force to be reckoned with -- now Egypt is faced with one of its own seasoned military experts turning against his former military colleagues to extract maximum damage from the regime.

A group of independent cells linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL working out of the Sinai have committed a successful string of violent attacks on high-profile targets across Egypt. The government of Egypt now recognizes an increasing threat as various jihadist militias compete for influence over the Egyptian Islamist insurgency. Car bombs, suicide attacks, political assassinations have all gven due warning to an already-embattled Egypt that the attacks will not soon be abating.

Now, a powerful and dangerous cell with connections to Islamic State has been installed in Cairo itself, held to be responsible for the violence plaguing the city, and adding to the previously present al-Qaeda-linked cell. The insurgent reality of the Muslim Brotherhood-related underground movement to restore its former status before the removal of Mohammad Morsi, has become simply another element in the internal war that Egypt's government under President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi is struggling with.

When then-President Morsi was thrown out in 2011, Islamist militants were released from jail or managed to escape, some forming covert and outlawed Islamist political parties and others streaming toward the Sinai where Bedouin Salafist tribesman had attacked Egyptian police during the revolt resulting from the Muslim Brotherhood removal from government. The vast area of the desert is difficult to patrol and infiltration is rife with Hamas operatives, al-Qaeda militias and now ISIL.

A militant movement coalesced calling themselves Ansar Bayt al-Maqdes, soon declaring its alliance with the Islamic State, naming itself the "Sinai Province". The jihadists turned their sights on killing hundreds of Egyptian police and soldiers, considered by them to be apostates. And Ashmawy made use of his military training and combat experience to help with the planning and execution of some of the most devastating attacks.

The jihadists were able to convince some police and army informants to alert them to any movements of the security forces. When the Sinai Province was announced, it seems that Ashmawy left the group for uncertain reasons. Now Egyptian officials believe their former colleague had ordered a suicide attack on a tourist site in Luxor which failed, along with the assassination of state prosecutor Hisham Barakat in June, carried out successfully n Cairo.

Knowing that an active presence of ISIL operatives in Cairo presents as a volatile threat that can be activated at any time, presents as a concern to Egyptian intelligence which, if it could locate its presence, might go a long way to alleviating some of the impression of the state under siege. Underground cells can be difficult to detect, and even if one is taken out of commission, the pathology that drives the jihadist Islamists in their drive to conquest is not one easily quashed.

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