A Danish-nationality Islamic State (ISIS) operative of Lebanese origin was found to be a key figure in the bombing of a Russian aircraft over Sinai in 2015, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation DR said in a report on Wednesday.
The bombing, which killed all the flight’s passengers and crew (224 people), was claimed by the ISIS group.
The DR report said that the information was provided by the Australian Khalid Al-Khayat who confessed to the Australian police that the Danish national, Bassil Hassan, was behind the Russian plane terrorist attack.
“The bombing of a passenger airline in 2015 was one of the ISIS group in Sinai’s most sophisticated attacks. When a local Sinai jihadist group pledged allegiance to the Syrian-based Islamic State, one of the benefits of that loyalty was military and terrorist expertise,” Zack Gold, analyst at CNA in Arlington, USA, told Daily News Egypt on Sunday.
Gold added, “The Metrojet bombing was a wake-up call to the international threat ISIS-Sinai posed. Since, the US, UK, Israel, and other Egyptian partners have worked to cut communication between Sinai and ISIS’s external operators.”
“It’s noteworthy that the group has not replicated a major attack on tourists in Sinai or elsewhere in Egypt. That can be credited to Egypt’s military operations, which are harsh but effective in the immediate term, and to intelligence sharing and other methods by the US and Egypt’s other international allies and partners,” Gold highlighted.
Al-Khayat, 51, is convicted of terrorism in Australia earlier this year for attempting to bomb a 400-passenger aeroplane that would fly from Sydney to Abu Dhabi, the report added.
In addition to the Russian aircraft, Hassan was also involved in the attempted bombing of the Abu Dhabi plane, the DR cited Danish and foreign intelligence services.
“There is also another plane [Russian plane] blasting in Egypt which Basil Hassan, an ISIS-affiliated terrorist, was also behind,” Al-Khayat told Australian police, according to the report.
Al-Khayat added that “the same method was used for the two attacks.”
Max Abrahms, a professor of political science and Public Policy at Northeastern University told Daily News Egypt that the news of the involvement of Basil Hassan in the bombing of the Russian aircraft “surprised many people.”
ISIS acknowledged nearly two weeks ago that its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and spokesperson Abu Hassan Al-Muhajir, were dead. The group named Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashemi Al-Quraishi as the new leader of ISIS.
Days later, the ISIS-affiliated branch in Egypt, Sinai Province, pledged its allegiance to the new leader.
Al-Baghdadi killed himself during a US Special Forces raid in northern Syria, while his aide Al-Muhajir was targeted hours later in a US military operation in the border town of Ain Al–Baydah.
“Most militant leaders tend to prevent certain members from joining and also restrain members from attacking certain targets that are unlikely to advance the political cause. Specifically, militant leaders tend to tell fighters not to attack civilians and discipline those who do,” Abrahms said.
“Al-Baghdadi didn’t restrain members from joining or which targets to avoid. Even at his height, Al-Baghdadi did not restrain his group in these conventional ways. Thus, his death will have a minimal impact on ISIS operations,” Abrahms continued.
Furthermore, Abrahms added that any “group that declares allegiance to the ISIS leader will continue to be accepted, any member who wants to join will be allowed to do so, and any target the member strikes will be welcomed.”
“The nature of ISIS operations without Baghdadi will be the same as when he was alive because he never exerted influence in these areas. As I explain my book Rules for Rebels, Baghdadi is like a CEO so incompetent that his loss will not noticeably affect the firm’s performance,” Abrahms concluded.
The ISIS group claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks against the Egyptian police and army forces as well as minority Christians and tourists in Sinai and outside the peninsula since the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Since October 2014, a state of emergency has been imposed in North Sinai. Egypt’s army and police have launched a comprehensive campaign to confront militants in central and north Sinai, the Nile Delta region, and the Western Desert.
Who is Basil Hassan?
Information provided by the Australian police stated that Hassan, an engineer, was born on 24 May 1987. He appeared in several leaked reports of ISIS, the DR clarified.
Hassan was designated a terrorist by the US Department of State in November 2016.
He has become internationally wanted since February 2013, when he disguised himself as a postman in the attempt to kill Danish historian and prominent critic of Islam Lars Hedegaard, the DR noted.
Afterwards, Hassan fled to Lebanon and later Syria, where he joined the Islamic State, according to Australian police, the DR added.
Hassan was arrested in Turkey in April 2014 and then was reportedly released and handed to ISIS in September 2014, as part of a hostage exchange for 46 Turkish nationals, who were detained by the terrorist group in Syria, according to Danish media and the US State Department.
Hassan was a key figure in the ISIS’ external terrorist operations outside Syria and Iraq, according to the report.