CAIRO – 2 February 2018: Hasm and Liwa al-Thawra movements were designated “terrorist organizations” by the U.S. Treasury Department on Wednesday. They are two of many armed cluster cells that emerged following the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi.
Helwan Brigades, the Revolutionary Punishment, the Execution Battalion, Anti-Coup Black Bloc, Rad’ (deterrence), Ajnad Misr and others have claimed responsibility for targeting police officers and stations, power plants, transmission towers, water plants, public buses and utilities. Such attacks were rampant from 2013 to 2016, and were sometimes claimed by more than one group; however, attacks that deliberately or accidentally killed and maimed civilians often went unclaimed.
Egypt’s Ministry of Interior believes those cells are interlinked and only lead to their main theorist: the Muslims Brotherhood.
On March 19, 2015, the country’s top police authority said in a statement that the Brotherhood’s leaders who fled Egypt have agreed to modify the group’s intellectual approach to accommodate the phase it is undergoing, officially renouncing the slogan of peacefulness.
In the aftermath of arresting many Brotherhood leaders in Egypt on charges of violence, the Islamist organization worked to integrate its members with other “terrorist groups” under the umbrella of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to the statement.
Their target, according to the Ministry of Interior, is to insinuate the multiplicity of extremist movements in Egypt and allow the Brotherhood to continue to publicize itself as a moderate group, as those smaller groups would claim the attacks and repel accusations of violence against it. Most of said groups have disappeared, as well as their minor attacks on state-owned utilities, infrastructure and privately-owned properties of army-loyal businesses and individuals.
Recently, both Hasm and the previously unknown group “Ansar al-Islam” claimed responsibility for a major October 21, 2017 attack in the Western Desert, 135 km southwest of Cairo, which killed at least 16 policemen. However, several analysts said such a well-orchestrated attack points to notorious ex-military officer Hesham Ashmawy, whose name has been linked to Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State group and other terrorist groups in Egypt, Libya and Syria.
A picture of ex Special Forces military officer Hesham Ashmawy on state T.V.
On July 20, 2017, one military conscript was killed in a patrol in Fayoum after a drive-by shooting. Three days later, the Interior Ministry said eight Hasm militants were killed in the poor governorate.
In another police patrol in Nasr City, Cairo, two police officers were killed on May 2, 2017 in a heavy shooting claimed by Hasm. On 9 December 2016, six conscripts were killed in Haram Street, Giza, due to a bombing perpetrated by Hasm.
As for Liwa al-Thawra (Banner of the Revolution), it claimed the assassination of Brigadier-General Adel Ragaei near his home on October 22, 2016.
The Ministry of Interior’s 2015 statement
The aforementioned statement revealed investigations on Islam Shehata, who was arrested March 13, 2015 while allegedly carrying out his “eighth operation” and planting explosive devices in downtown Cairo. He, along with 12 others who belong to Ajnad Misr, was sentenced to death on December 7,2017 by the Giza Criminal Court over several attacks.
“I used to go to the Rabaa al-Adaweya sit-in; after the sit-in, I was acquainted with Malek. Malek introduced me to Gamal, and Gamal persuaded me to carry out jihadi operations in Egypt against the police and the army. I executed eight operations with Gamal. My first operation was with Gamal at Ain Shams University,” Shehata, 23, said in a video released by the police in March 2015. The cited sit-in demanded the reinstatement of Morsi and was violently dispersed on August 14, 2013.
He also appears in the video leading prosecutors to locations of his eight operations, showing them how and where he planted the bombs.
Shehata and a man codenamed Hossam allegedly appear in the video walking past the High Court at 10:30 p.m. on March 1, 2015 and planting a bomb. The two men were filmed from two angles by a camera that appears to be installed on the High Court building, and a camera on a shop across from it.
They were allegedly present in the vicinity of the court on March 2, 2015 in the morning and detonated the bomb by calling the cell phone inside it, killing two civilians and maiming others.
The investigation identified extremist groups that have the same directions as the Brotherhood; Ajnad Misr, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Gamaa Islamiyya, and Hazemoun.
The Brotherhood has capitalized on the intellectual compatibility between itself and the other extremist factions, and their transitory strategic goal to spread violence under the pretext of jihadism, the statement said.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Oman designate the Muslim Brotherhood as “terrorist.” Ajnad Misr, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, and Gamaa Islamiyya are designated “terrorist organizations” by Egypt and the U.S. The Hazemoun movement, created in 2012 to support radical now-jailed preacher Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, has not been listed as “terrorist.”
Despite its history of violence and assassination, the Brotherhood turned to grass roots activities in the past few decades, but Gamaa Islamiyya emerged in the 1990s to lead a violent insurgency, then pledged peacefulness. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which appeared after the 2011 revolution, renamed itself the Sinai Province after it pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in November 2014. Ajnad Misr revealed itself in January 2014, but claimed responsibility for attacks in late 2013.
What are Shehata’s eight operations?
Shehata, himself condenamed Hassan, was led to online communication between a man condenamed Gamal, who works under Ajnad Misr, and members from a variety of the mentioned cells. In a previous police report, a man named Emad Saeed was reported as one of Ajnad Misr leaders.
According to Shehata’s statements in the police video, the operations, aside from the High Court attack, include injuring four policemen at Cairo’s Ain Shams University in December 2013 with “Ahmed and Gamal.”
The attack was followed by planting a bomb at Cinema Radobis on Haram Street in January 2014 with Ahmed, Haythan and Yassine, leaving casualties; killing an officer in Giza in January 2015 with “Gamal, Haytham and Yassine;” injuring a policeman at Qubba palace in January 2015 with “Hazem;” damaging stores in downtown Cairo by detonating a bomb in February 2015 with “Hossam, Moaz and Hazem;” and planting a bomb on a tree outside Haram Hospital in Giza in March 2015 with “Hossam and Hammam,” leaving no casualties as it was defused.
Shehata was a resident of Matariya, a blue-collar district in North Cairo that has witnessed ongoing pro-Muslim Brotherhood protests.
Are Egypt’s armed groups interlinked?
A Twitter account affiliating itself with Ajnad Misr claimed responsibility for the High Court explosion, but a group called Giza Popular Brigades, which has perpetrated dozens of incidents of arson and explosions, denying that the Revolutionary Punishment was responsible for killing civilians. Attacks that kill civilians are often not claimed.
A bomb that killed an officer in Giza was claimed by both Ajnad Misr and Giza Popular Brigades. The latter often released information on attacks perpetrated by the Revolutionary Punishment.
One of the suspects arrested for killing a civilian at yet another explosion outside Cinema Radobis, as security forces are often deployed in the area, in March 2014 told investigators that he is affiliated with Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis.
Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated TV channels airing from Turkey have interviewed members of armed groups, including the Revolutionary Punishment, over the phone.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry gave then U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry a C.D. in February 2015 with videos of “terrorism” faced by Egypt.
In one of the videos, a presenter at the now-shutdown Misr Alaan channel requests protesters to kill officers, and warns officers’ wives and children that they would be killed, saying he is sure groups of protesters have full details on officers across Egypt, including their addresses and their children.
The CD included another video from Misr Alaan, where a spokesperson of the “Revolutionary Punishment” in Minya listed the full names and titles of several police officers, threatening that they and their families would be targeted. The main Brotherhood-affiliated TV channel, airing from Turkey, is now Mekameleen.
Part of this article was originally published on The Cairo Post on March 20, 2015