CAIRO – 2 February 2018: A number of deadly attacks rigged Egyptian cities in the Nile Delta over the last two years, most of which were claimed by the militant group Hasm, killing dozens of policemen and civilians.
A number of questions swirl in our minds regarding the little-known Hasm. What is Hasm? When did the group emerge? Where it operates? Who stands behind it?
Formation and Ideology
Hasm is an Islamist militant group operating in Egypt. In Arabic, the word “Hasm” means decisiveness. It also stands for Ḥarakat Sawa'd Miṣr (Arms of Egypt Movement). Hasm has been associated with nearly every terrorist attack in Egypt during the last year.
Hasm group is supposedly linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, a group which is deemed illegal in Egypt. However, the Brotherhood’s media spokesman, Talaat Fahmi, denied the Brotherhood’s links to Hasm to Turkish-led Anadul agency in December 2016. He said the Brotherhood could never be linked to those who commit violence and bloodshed.
Tal’at Habib, a researcher and expert on Islamic movements, told Egypt Today that Hasm is directly linked to the Brotherhood’s members and leaders, directly refuting Fahmi’s statement. Habib cited a Hasm statement that came out after top Brotherhood leader Mohamed Kamal’s death in October 2016. They vowed revenge for his killing.
Kamal served as a member of the Brotherhood’s top guidance office and, according to the Interior Ministry, was responsible for planning the group’s armed wing attacks. He was killed during a confrontation with police in October 2016 in the Al-Basatin district of Cairo.
Hasm's first statement was issued in July 2016 when the group claimed responsibility for the killing of a senior policeman named Mahmoud Abdel Hamid in Fayoum. Hamid was the head of the investigations department in Fayoum’s Tamya district.
According to Habib, Hasm is the crystallized form of militant groups that grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood, such as the Ikhwan Brigades and the Popular Resistance. The group formed after the violent dispersal during the Rabaa and al-Nahda sit-ins in July 2013.
“Hasm’s methods and techniques are mainly primitive and of minimal costs,” Habib said. He added that they also get some of their arms by stealing them from police stations and ambushes.
Since its beginnings, Hasm has maintained a strategy of targeting policemen, not civilians. The group’s members have been involved in attacking several checkpoints and killing policemen stationed there. The most recent took place on July 7. The attack targeted a police van and left one police officer and three recruits dead in Giza.
On September 29, 2016, Hasm claimed responsibility for a failed assassination attempt that targeted the prosecutor general's top deputy, Zakaria Abd El-Aziz.
On October 5, 2016, former Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa survived an assassination attempt after two masked men opened fire on him and his guards.
On December 9, 2016, the group claimed responsibility for a bomb that detonated near a police checkpoint in Giza governorate. The bomb killed at least six policemen and injured three others.
On July 5, 2017, Hasm assassinated senior police officer Ibrahim al-Azazy of the National Security Department. The victim was on his way to perform Friday prayers in Qalyubia governorate.
Since the ouster of former Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, Egypt has witnessed a number of terrorist attacks carried out by insurgents and extremists.
The future of Hasm
Habib further told Egypt today that Hasm is expected to expand their deadly altercations with police and that their attacks will not likely end soon. He attributed this to Hasm members’ complex network of connections to Brotherhood members lodging in Egypt and Turkey, and also to those who are rebuffing the reformist approach.
“Those groups feel defeated and they will continue to try, as the Ikhwan Brigades and the Popular Resistance, to pound the regime’s fist through revenge killings,” Habib concluded.
Lewaa al-Thawra and Hasm
Lewaa al-Thawra’s formation has been welcomed by Hasm. Both groups followed the same style and techniques of Hasm in attacking its targets, documenting them, and publishing photos or video clips.
This indicates a high-level coordination between the two organizations or that these two movements actually follow one command. During its investigations, the Supreme State Security Prosecution considered that Hasm movement also bears the name of Lewaa al-Thawra.
Both groups, especially Lewaa al-Thawra, are apparently distinct from jihadist ideologies like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. They use slogans and concepts in their statements like ‘the nation is the source’ that directly contradicts strict conservative Salafist jihadist ideologies, which call for the establishing of an Islamic caliphate.
Security campaign against Hasm
As part of the Ministry of Interior's campaign against terrorism, the Homeland Security agency raided in December 2017 a hideout belonging to Hasm in the Giza governorate, killing three leading members of the group in a shootout.
The ministry announced that the security forces managed to uncover a plot by elements of the group to carry out several attacks against tourist facilities, public buildings, armed forces and police during Christmas celebrations.
The security forces located the terrorist elements at a hideout farm on Korayemat road near Atfih, Giza. They were manufacturing explosives and preparing for their attacks. An intensive battle took place between the security forces and the terrorist elements that resulted in the murder of three militants. The forces also seized three automatic rifles, two explosive devices, and a surplus of ammunition found in possession of the terrorist elements.
Ammunition seized by security forces- photo courtesy of the Egyptian Ministry of Interior
Ten other members of that group who are involved in the terrorist plot were caught in the governorates of Fayoum and Qalyubia at locations containing ammunitions and other tools, which were uncovered by the police.
The ministry added that information confirmed that they were involved in the altercation that took place with security forces on a road near Fayoum, 60 kilometers (40 miles) south of Cairo in July 2017. That attack resulted in the killing of one security member and the injury of another, according to the ministry.
"Information also revealed that those arrested received training on using arms and manufacturing explosives at a location in Egypt's Western Desert in Fayoum governorate, and plotters had listed a number of touristic and security spots in preparation for a planned Christmas attack, following the orders of Yahia Moussa, a fugitive Muslim Brotherhood figure in Turkey," the ministry added.
All legal procedures have been taken against the accused, and they were transferred to the State Security Prosecution for investigation.
Internationally designated as terrorist group
U.S. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson
The United States announced on January 31 listing Hasm and Lewaa al-Thawra on the Specially Designated Global Terrorists blacklist.
According to the State Department’s statement, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson emphasized that “these designations target key terrorist groups and leaders – including two sponsored and directed by Iran – who are threatening the stability of the Middle East, undermining the peace process, and attacking our allies Egypt and Israel. Today’s actions are an important step in denying them the resources they need to plan and carry out their terrorist activities.”
Britain also designated on December 22, 2017 the two militant groups targeting Egyptian security personnel and public figures as terrorist organizations.
The British Embassy in Egypt said in a statement that Britain has added Hasm and Lewaa al-Thawra group to its list of terrorist organizations after reviewing attacks claimed by both groups and finding they meet the criteria.
It also said the move will boost its "capacity to disrupt the activities of these terrorist organizations."
The British Ambassador to Egypt John Casson affirmed that the UK will not leave Egypt alone in its fight against terrorism and expressed his concern in the statement.
Egypt labels Hasm terrorist
Egypt welcomed the US and UK decisions to place the two Egyptian terrorist groups on their terror lists.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement yesterday that “Egypt considers the decision a positive development in the perception of Egypt's international partners, especially the United States, regarding the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliated terrorist groups.”
Foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zaid said that the US decision is a real-world demonstration of solidarity with Egypt against terrorism, and an important step forward by the international community in adopting a comprehensive strategy to fighting terrorism and eradicating its roots.
Last February, an Egyptian court designated the militant group Hasm a terrorist organization, banning its activity in the country. The Egyptian authorities also banned the Muslim Brotherhood and declared it a terrorist organization after deposing President Morsi.
Pence’s visit to Cairo
US Vice President Mike Pence (L) shakes hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi (R) - File photo
In the highest-level American official visit to Egypt Since 2009, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi received on January 20 US Vice President Mike Pence at the presidential palace in Cairo, amid the American official’s Middle East tour that also included Jordan and Israel with the aim to boost peace process in the region.
Al-Sisi and Pence held intensive talks over a number of urgent issues, including ways to eliminate the threat of terrorism that has terrified the whole world. Pence pointed to President Donald Trump’s efforts to forge stronger ties with Al-Sisi in his first year in office, after a time when both countries seemed to be drifting apart.
Pence tweeted “We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Egypt in the fight against terrorism,” and that “our hearts grieve” for the loss of life in recent terrorist attacks against Egyptians.
Additional reporting by Dunya Hassanin