In what is arguably the largest attack against security personnel since the confrontation between the Egyptian state and Al-Jama’a Al-Islamiyya in the 1990s, a shootout in one of the oases in Giza governorate left dozens of causalities from the police.
As the statement of the Ministry of Interior did not mention the identities of the militants in charge of staging the attack nor their affiliations, several media outlets cited anonymous security sources to report news about the incident.
Most opinions accused two groups to have perpetrated the attack: The first is Hasm movement, which appeared in early 2016 and which the Ministry of Interior said belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The second group is Al-Murabiteen, which is active in the Western Desert and which is led by militant Hisham Ashmawi.
Early this month, police said they killed three members of Hasm. This came one day after the group’s affiliated Twitter account claimed to have targeted the Myanmar embassy in Cairo. Amid a security campaign against the militant group, several operations were conducted in the past months.
In September, 10 alleged militants were killed and 5 police officers were injured during an exchange of fire in Giza’s Al-Agouza district. More operations had taken place in July.
The movement claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in statements that were circulated online. In August 2016, the group said it was behind the failed assassination attempt of former Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa. In October of the same year, militants driving a black private vehicle opened fire on military leader Adel Ragaai, assassinating him in front of his residence in Al-Obour City.
Groups, such as Hasm and Liwa Al-Thawra, have not publicly announced their affiliation with the Brotherhood, but their rhetoric and usage of justifications of the attacks is very similar to that of the group, which calls for retribution. For example, in one of their videos, the militant groups used the picture of Mohamed Kamal, 61, to justify an attack. Kamal was the head of Brotherhood-affiliated youth groups and allegedly the leader of militant teams in the Brotherhood.
Kamal was killed in his residence at the beginning of October 2016 during a raid conducted by Interior Ministry forces. Kamal was accompanied by a teacher named Yasser Shehata, who was also killed in the incident.
Al-Murabiteen’s Ashmawi is a former Special Forces officer and is now one of Egypt’s most wanted jihadists. In July 2015, he released a voice note calling for different groups to counter the Egyptian regime, accusing it of killing “soldiers of God”, “fighting our religion”, and killing “our men and women”.
The jihadist cell reportedly is small, but with their knowledge of the Arab world’s largest military, they are considered to pose a serious security threat. The group is reportedly a cell formed within the Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis militant group. The jihadists re-branded themselves “Sinai Province” after pledging allegiance to the regional radical group of “Islamic State”. Ashmawi is suspected to have been behind several high-profile attacks on the Egyptian state, including a massacre of military personnel in Sinai, known as the Al-Farafra attack in 2014.
Some speculations also argue that Ashmawi masterminded the assassination of Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat in a Cairo explosion late last month, the first of its kind of a top state official since 1990. However, more than a dozen defendants were tried and were sentenced to death for this incident, with Ashmawi not mentioned in the case.
Ashmawi has been accused of executing the Al-Farafra attack and is currently being tried in absentia.