CAIRO: Those the military used to count among their own are now the subject of an intense search by security forces; three former military officers have been implicated in a series of attacks, especially in North Sinai, Youm7 reported Saturday.
Military sources told several outlets the three officers are some of the “most dangerous terrorist elements,” and have participated in an assassination attempt on Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim in September 2013, the Farafra attacks near the Libya borders in July 2014, the Karam al-Qawadees suicide attack in October 2014 and the Arish attacks Jan. 29 in North Sinai.
The three attacks, all claimed by Sinai-based Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM,) left almost 100 dead. The attacks were perceived as sophisticated, as the group was able to capture the aggression on film and post gruesome videos of the killings later.
ABM pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in November, and has since proclaimed itself the “Province of Sinai.”
Former Special Forces officer accused of wide-scale anti-military attacks
Hesham Ashmawi, 34, was a Special Forces officer for ten years in Sinai Peninsula who was fired seven years ago for joining jihadist groups following his father’s death, according to Bawaba News. He also suffered depression after his parent’s passing while he was in Sinai, and radicals convinced him it was “God’s punishment” for working with the army, Bawaba News reported.
Ashmawi is accused of providing military training to ABM members, as well as former officer Emad Abdel Hamid, 36, according to Youm7.
The advantages of the former officers from militants’ standpoint is that they know the Sinai well, as well as the inside system and shifts of the military and police, where they store their weapons, where they are usually stationed, the type of their arming, and the routes of military vehicles, informed sources told Youm7.
In April 2013, Ashmawi traveled to Turkey, and then to Syria, where he received training on manufacturing explosives and militancy, security forces told Youm7. He returned to Egypt to participate in the Rabaa al-Adaweya sit-in that protested the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
Former military major attempts to assassinate Minister of Interior
Soon after the bloody dispersal of the sit-in in August 2013, Ashmawi and fired engineer officer Youssef Suleiman, 24, and fired military officer Walid Badr planned the assassination attempt of the police’s Ibrahim using a car bomb in September.
Badr is seen in an ABM video as the suicide bomber who carried out Ibrahim’s assassination bid. According to ABM’s video, he was fired from the military as a major after he began to be vocal about his radical beliefs. Badr, who graduated in 1991 according to ABM, fought in Afghanistan, Iraq and then Syria until he returned to Egypt to participate in the assassination.
In December, Egypt began requesting a pre-travel police authorization from its nationals aged 18-40 who want to travel to Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Qatar.
The wanted fighters, Ashmawi, Suleiman and Abdel Hamid, previously traveled to Gaza and Libya to facilitate “joint attacks,” and use Israeli phone lines to disable surveillance, sources told Youm7.
The police have repeatedly said that “foreigners” were complicit in the attacks. Egypt has been building a one-kilometer wide buffer zone along the borders with Gaza after the October aggression that claimed the lives of over 30 officers. The authorities also reported that many of the perpetrators of the attacks have been killed in subsequent crackdown.
Despite the attacks, which largely depend on a suicide attack then strafing by bullets or missiles or shooting of individual officers rather than a confrontation, the military’s tight grip on Sinai has made its militants movements harder.
ABM told Reuters early January their numbers have become smaller after many were killed and detained, in addition to the deployment of security forces “everywhere.”
Egyptian navy officer hijacks launch
Although the authorities are pursuing three former officers, another Egyptian officer allegedly carried out an attack while he held his position.
Lebanese news website Al-Modon reported in November that navy officer Ahmed Amer was the captain of Launch October 6 where at least eight sailors were killed. The launch was patrolling the shores of Damietta in the Mediterranean in November, when Amer announced “this is the Islamic State Launch” to the Egyptian naval base, according to Al-Modon’s naval sources.
F16 aircrafts destroyed the launch and rescued five sailors, according to a statement by military spokesperson Mohamed Samir, who said that the launch came under attack from other vessels.
Al-Modon, however, reported that Amer had hidden five militants inside the launch before it sailed, and killed most of the crew with the help of the five assailants.
Egyptian former officers and radicalization
Dozens of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated employees have been fired from state-owned utilities. In December, 40 students were expelled from the Police Academy. Junior students of 2013/2014 would have joined the academy under the presidency of Morsi; senior students would have begun their study under the rule of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, which had a sort of political convergence with the Brotherhood at the time.
However, not all radicalized Egyptian officers were previously fired.
Former police officer Ahmed el-Darawy, 36, resigned from the Ministry of Interior in 2007 on grounds of “police corruption.” He emerged in the media after the January 25 Revolution in 2011 and ran for the parliamentary elections with “reforming the police” as one of his objectives.
Although Darawy voted for Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, former Brotherhood member and head of Misr al-Qawia party, in the first round of the 2012 presidential elections, he became a fierce supporter of the Brotherhood’s Morsi who eventually won.
In the following months, his tweets contained support for radical groups in Syria and Iraq. When Morsi was ousted, he participated in the Rabaa al-Adaweya sit-in as well as the protests that followed the killing of hundreds at the sit-in at the hands of the police.
Brigadier General Hossam el-Awwak, deputy commander of the Free Officers’ Gathering in the Free Syrian Army told Mehwar TV Oct. 19 that Darawy traveled to Turkey, then Syria, and joined IS. Awwak claimed that Darawy died in an operation by the Iraqi and Kurdish forces in Tikrit, Iraq, but IS-affiliated websites claimed he died in a suicide operation in Iraq.
“[Darawy] is one of a group of Egyptians who were in Rabaa [al-Adaweya Islamist sit-in;] it was the first terrorist hub that launched the program of [embracing] Islamism for money,” Awwak said.
Ibrahim said in a September press conference that “some people have traveled for jihad in Syria, we are tracing their return.”
Former Egyptian officers have not only been recruited as fighters, but also as theorists.
Asharq Al-Awsat reported in October that Helmi Hashim, who was a Central Security Forces officer, is now a religious leader at IS and is close to self-proclaimed Caliphate Abo Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Hashim was fired from the Ministry of Interior as a Lieutenant Colonel after he was reported to have extremist ideology, according to Asharq Al-Awsat, which reports that he is the source of several fatwas on enslavement, beheading, and treating other Muslims as apostates.