Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, surrounded by top military generals in Cairo - press photo
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, surrounded by top military generals in Cairo - press photo

How Egyptian security dealt with IEDs threat?

Mon, Jan. 1, 2018
CAIRO – 1 January 2018: It has been a year full of tragic incidents and security triumphs. Egyptian security showed a lot of strength and efficiency in the fight against ongoing terrorism, despite the big numbers of victims and economic fluctuation resulted from terrorist acts plagued the country in the last few years.

Terror groups such as Ajnad Misr and Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM) in the North Sinai became a consistent threat to Egypt especially after the ABM pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic States (IS) group in November 2014. With the ABM receiving training and funds to conduct major terrorist activities, both civilians and security forces are now regular targets.

The real threat was caused by improvised explosive devices (IED) attacks that increased significantly in the last three years, with 2015 recording 755 deaths and injuries from 79 IED incidents. These numbers declined relatively in 2016 and 2017, but the IED threat remains, with most incidents occurring in Sinai.

What is IED?

IED is a type of irregular explosive weapon that can take any form, be planted and activated in different ways against military or civilian targets. It played a vital role in escalating the conflict between Egypt's security forces and terror groups in Sinai.

Despite being the weapon of the weak side, IEDs helped militants to conduct major operations against both civilians and military targets. IED proved to be a cheap, relatively easy-to-use tool, and the knowledge of making IED became more available on the Internet than ever.

With the ABM pledging allegiance to IS, the group increased its bombing operations in North Sinai mainly targeting police officers and soldiers. The group received training from foreign militants in Iraq and Afghanistan on manufacturing the bombs and planting them. The ABM used old mines and caches of explosives left in Sinai since 1967 to produce different types of IEDs.

A bombing site in Al-Arish - AP
A bombing site in Al-Arish - AP

Major IED attacks

Since 2013, the use of IEDs and land mines turned to be a significant threat in the North Sinai, killing hundreds of police officers, soldiers and civilians. Egypt Today takes a quick look at major IED attacks that hit the country in this period.

September 5, 2013: Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim survives an assassination attempt in Cairo when an IED blows up his motorcade, injuring 22.

January 24, 2014: Four bombs target the Cairo Security Directorate building, two police stations, and a government building, killing six people and injuring dozens. ABM claims responsibility.

September 21, 2014: Ajnad Misr detonates a bomb near the foreign ministry in downtown Cairo, killing two lieutenant colonels and a key witness in a trial against former President Mohammed Morsi.

September 21, 2014: Ajnad Misr detonates a bomb near the foreign ministry in downtown Cairo, killing two lieutenant colonels and a key witness in a trial against former President Mohammed Morsi.

October 24, 2014: ABM members attack a military checkpoint using a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device followed by RPGs and small arms fire. ABM kills 30 Egyptian troops and wounds dozens.

June 29, 2015: A car bomb kills Egyptian Public Prosecutor Hisham Barakat and wounds eight others in Cairo.

The Egyptian government blames the Brotherhood, but the group does not publicly claim responsibility. Barakat is the highest level assassination since the army deposed the Brotherhood government. The attack spurs Egypt’s controversial counterterrorism law.

August 20, 2015: A car bomb outside a state security building in Cairo’s Shubra al-Khaima suburb wounds 30 people. Wilayat Sinai claims responsibility

November 24, 2015: Police kill a suicide bomber attempting to drive a vehicle into the Swiss Inn hotel in el-Arish in North Sinai.

The vehicle explodes when police shoot at it. Security forces shoot and kill a second suicide bomber attempting to blow himself up in the hotel’s kitchen. A third attacker opens fire on guests in the hotel, killing seven people and wounding 17. Victims include two judges supervising parliamentary elections, four police officers, and a civilian. Wilayat Sinai claims responsibility.

January 21, 2016: A bomb in a Giza apartment kills nine people, including six police officers.

Ten people are wounded. Police were preparing to raid the apartment, which they believed to be a militant hideout. Wilayat Sinai claims responsibility.

March 19, 2016: A mortar round kills at least 13 police officers in the Sinai.

The attackers target ambulances trying to evacuate the wounded with heavy gunfire. Egyptian forces reportedly kill five of the attackers.

The explosion happened 200 metres from its military target, “when an Egyptian soldier used a tank to stop the vehicle. (Video grab)

July 11, 2016: Four Egyptian police officers were killed, and six others were wounded in two blasts in North Sinai. Unidentified assailants planted an improvised explosive device on a north Al-Arish road. The IED then detonated while a police vehicle was passing, killing a first lieutenant and a first sergeant and injuring three other police members. In another blast, a brigadier general and a conscript were killed, and three other conscripts were injured after an IED exploded in Al-Montabh in central Sinai when an IED targeted a patrolling police vehicle.

August 6, 2016: four civilians were killed, and three other people were injured in North Sinai's Al-Arish after an improvised explosive device planted in a garbage bag detonated late in the vicinity of a police station on El-Bahr Street.

December 9, 2016: A bomb kills six police officers and wounds three others at a security checkpoint outside of Cairo. The recently emerged group Hasm claimed responsibility.

December 11, 2016: A suicide bombing at a chapel adjacent to St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo kills at least 28 people and wounds 49 others during Sunday mass.
ISIS claims responsibility two days after the attack and identifies the bomber as Abu Abdallah al-Masri. St. Mark’s is the headquarters of the Coptic Orthodox Church and its leader, Pope Tawadros II, who was out of the country during the bombing.

January 9, 2017: A group of about 20 militants in a stolen, explosives-filled garbage truck attack a security checkpoint outside a police building in the Sinai city of el-Arish.
According to the Egyptian government, security forces shoot and kill the truck driver before he can set off the explosives. The attackers then fire guns and RPGs at the checkpoint, killing at least eight people and wounding 22, according to the government. Among the dead are seven policemen and one civilian.

March 22, 2017 - March 25, 2017: At least 16 police officers and soldiers are killed by roadside bombs and snipers in the Sinai Peninsula.

April 9, 2017: A bomb planted under a seat in the main sanctuary at St. George’s Church in Tanta kills at least 25 and wounds 60 others.

Also that morning, a suicide bomber explodes outside of St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria, killing at least 11 and wounding 35. Coptic leader Pope Tawadros II is inside the Alexandria church but is not wounded.

July 6, 2017: A roadside bomb in the Sinai kills three policemen and wounds 10 others. As a result, the Egyptian government extended its national state of emergency for three months.

July 7, 2017: Two suicide car bombs explode at a security checkpoint in the Rafah area of the Sinai Peninsula near the Gaza border.

After the explosions, militants in 24 SUVs attack security forces with machine guns. The attacks reportedly kill at least 23 soldiers and wound 26, though the military claims 26 casualties in total without distinction. An almost immediate Egyptian airstrike against militant positions in the Sinai kills at least 40. ISIS claims responsibility for the attack.

September 11, 2017: IS fighters ambush a security convoy in the Sinai Peninsula, killing at least 18 police officers in gun battle after roadside bombs reportedly destroy four armored vehicles and a fifth carrying signal equipment.

An Egyptian troop securing a public facility
An Egyptian troop securing a public facility

Egyptian counter-IED efforts

Egyptian security forces have waged an extensive campaign dubbed "Operation Martyr's Right" since late 2015 to crush terror groups in the North Sinai region. The operation has killed thousands of Islamic militants who launched attacks against the state and security forces.

The Egyptian Explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams of the Armed Forces as well as the Security Forces face the threat of IEDs every day. Units across Egypt are thought to receive approximately 10 calls a day to which they must respond. Though it has been said that many reports turn out to be false, EOD teams successfully diffuse a great number of these IEDs.

In regard to border security, Egypt has improved security along its borders with Libya and Gaza. Specifically, in 2015 Egypt installed x-ray scanning devices at the Libyan border crossing, inspecting traffic in and out of Egypt. The amount of checkpoints in highly-impacted areas has also been increased and security vehicles have been reinforced in an attempt to implement measures to combat IED use.

As IEDs threat continues to grow in scope and use, Egypt received from the United States a number of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles that are designed specifically to withstand IED attacks and ambushes.

The first shipment of 762 American MRAP vehicles has arrived in May 2016. The delivery is part of the Pentagon’s Excess Defense Articles grant program, according to which the vehicles are delivered free of charge.

Major General Charles Hooper, a senior defense official at the US Embassy in Egypt, said, “The delivery of these MRAPs to Egypt provides a crucial capability needed during these times of regional instability and is part of the continuing strong relationship between the US and Egypt.”

The operational use of MRAP vehicles and intelligence-based operations against the bomb makers reduced the IED threat and the number of victims significantly.

A parade of of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles
A parade of of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles

In November 2017, fifteen experts from the Egyptian armed forces took part in training at the Counter-Improvised Explosive Device (C-IED) Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Madrid, Spain. The participants enhanced their skills in collecting, assessing and disseminating information and intelligence on IEDs.

At the end of the course, the participants were equipped with IED evidence recovery and processing skills. “Everything which has a start has also an end. But the end of the course should be the beginning of an increasing cooperation between NATO SPS, C-IED COE and Egyptian Armed Forces in the C-IED field,” said the Director of the C-IED CoE, Colonel Gomez Martin.

This training came in Egypt’s efforts to support the armed forces in the area of mine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) detection. The center previously supported a project that trained the Egyptian Armed Forces in detecting landmines quicker and more accurately. It equipped Egypt with minimum operational capacity on demining, and considerably reduced the duration of demining operations in the Egyptian Western Desert.

In September 2016, the UK committed troops to train the Egyptian military in counterterrorism tactics, with a focus on IEDs. The UK’s previous efforts had focused on train-the-trainer programs.

Moreover, the Egyptian forces received training from the British Armed Forces on C-IED measures and tactics, such a C-IED Search training package in the United Kingdom run by the UK’s EOD experts.

Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles
Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles

International Cooperation

Egypt has been increased its activity addressing cross-border terrorism concerns, particularly about the smuggling tunnels between Sinai and Gaza. The tunnels allow explosives and other such materials to enter Sinai. Egypt managed in the last year to locate and destroy most of these tunnels.

In September 2016, Egypt agreed with India to develop their counter terrorism cooperation. This will see the two states engage more frequently in intelligence sharing, operational exchanges and the prevention of radicalization of youth.

Japan too, has provided support through the provision of dual-use equipment for counter-terrorism as well as general commitment to consolidating cooperation between the two states. Through the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Japan has also contributed $1.5m for strengthening the legal system to counter terrorism in Egypt, alongside growing the capability of criminal justice in the MENA region.

Being a member of the Arab League, President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi proposed the creation of a unified Arab military force to counter regional security threats. Such cooperation is not unprecedented and is to some extent already occurring.

Egypt was one of the first countries that guided global attention to monitor the terrorist financing. It is also a founding member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF). Upon the MENAFATF’s recommendations to drain terrorism financing sources, the Egyptian government has criminalized the deliberate collection and provision of funds with the unlawful intention that they be used by a terrorist group, individual or act.

Egypt's permanent representative to the United Nations Amr Abdel-Latif Abul Atta
Egypt's permanent representative to the United Nations Amr Abdel-Latif Abul Atta

Diplomatic efforts to eliminate IEDs

In June 2017, Egypt's permanent representative to the United Nations Amr Abdel-Latif Abul Atta told a Security Council briefing that landmines and explosive remnants of war are used by terrorists around the world to make improvised explosive devices.

Abul Atta made the comments during a Security Council briefing on a comprehensive approach to mine action and explosive hazard threat mitigation.

"Egypt has been among the countries most affected by landmines, with more than 22.7 million mines and explosive devices from the Second World War in its territory, amounting to 20 percent of all landmines around the world," Abul Atta said, according to the Egyptian foreign ministry.

Abul Atta added that locating mines and clearing them requires significant financial resources, and that mines are a great impediment to the development of areas where they are located.

"Any legal frameworks or instruments should respond to the legitimate concerns of mine-affected countries, while states that laid mines should bear their moral and legal responsibilities and share the burden of disposing those devices," he said.

Representative from Japan, China, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, Uruguay, Senegal, and Kazakhstan delivered statements during the briefing. The speakers said that mine action must extend beyond only removing war remnants to become a part of an effective toolkit for helping communities and countries recover and pursue sustainable peace, the United Nations said on its website.
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