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Pre-emptive strikes
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 23 - 05 - 2019

The Interior Ministry announced on Monday that security forces had killed 12 members of the Hasm terrorist movement in the Cairo cities of 6 October and Shorouk. The operation came a day after a tour bus was struck by an explosive device in the vicinity of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) near the Giza Pyramids. The Interior Ministry statement did not indicate whether there was a direct link between the attack and the security operation which it described as “pre-emptive”. It did, however, say the operation against Hasm was part of “efforts to confront the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood and destroy its plans to carry out hostile operations that aim to disrupt security and stability”.
Although Hasm, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, did not claim responsibility for the attack against the tour bus it did claim responsibility for a similar attack on 28 December 2018. While the Muslim Brotherhood has publicly condemned the attack Ali Bakr, an expert on terrorism, says there is evidence of a technical and structural link between the perpetrators and the Brotherhood. He told Al-Ahram Weekly that information from security agencies indicates that “instructions had been issued by the Muslim Brotherhood's armed wing abroad to the militant Hasm movement to carry out a series of hostile operations in order to create a state of anarchy in the country.”
Bakr stressed that security agencies were capable of identifying Hasm agents and added “there are possibly other groups that are under close surveillance.” He underlined that pre-emptive strikes are “contingent on proof such groups are preparing to stage terrorist attacks”.
The tour bus that was struck in Giza was carrying 25 South Africans who were nearing the end of their holiday in Egypt. Some received minor injuries from broken glass. The explosion also caught a car carrying four Egyptians. GEM Superintendent Atef Moftah said the museum was unaffected by the explosion which occurred 50 metres away from the site's outer wall and more than 400 metres from the museum itself.
Security officials contacted by the Weekly believe there is a link between the incident and the timing of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi's inspection of preparations for hosting the Africa Cup of Nations.
“The message was clear from the Muslim Brotherhood abroad. The group wants Hasm agents to spoil the event. They did not succeed because of the security agencies' vigilance in monitoring extremist groups,” said one official.
In a related development, the Armed Forces Command released a communiqué describing the latest counterterrorism operations. According to the communiqué the Air Force struck 29 terrorist hideouts and safe houses, destroying 97 four-wheel drive vehicles.
Army and security ground forces carried out raids that succeeded in eliminating 47 takfiri jihadists in north and central Sinai who were carrying firearms and primed explosive devices. Members of the army's engineering corps discovered and safely dismantled 385 bombs planted on roads used by the military in the theatres of operations and, in collaboration with border patrol forces, discovered two tunnel openings. Security forces in north and central Sinai unearthed several terrorist hideouts containing arms, ammunition, automobile spare parts and food supplies. In addition, 158 suspects have been arrested. The communiqué also reported that an officer, a non-commissioned officer and three soldiers were killed, and four soldiers wounded in the course of combat during the sweeps on terrorist lairs.
An earlier Armed Forces Command communiqué, released on 11 March, indicated that the current phase of operations has been ongoing for nearly two months. The March communiqué reported 46 takfiri elements eliminated while the more recent communiqué reported 47.
It is clear terrorists in Sinai are continuing to use IEDs against the Armed Forces, though on one occasion a 15-year old suicide bomber, Abu Hager Al-Masri, killed three policemen in Sheikh Zuweid.
While the communiqués show that border tunnels are still being discovered military sources have downgraded their importance given the current security arrangements in force at the border with Gaza. It is, however, noteworthy that attempts to infiltrate Egypt's southern and western borders appear frequent. Of the 97 four-wheel drive vehicles mentioned in the latest Armed Forces communiqué, 54 were destroyed in the vicinity of the western border and 39 close to Egypt's southern border while only four vehicles were discovered along the northeastern border. The figures reflect mounting tensions in both Libya and Sudan and spotlight on how the situations in both countries impact on Egypt.
While it is clear from official statements and sources that the government believes the fight against terrorism must continue and it may be impossible to eliminate the phenomenon entirely, they say it is feasible to limit the scope of terrorism and undermine the environments in which it spreads. In this context they stress that ongoing military operations are not an obstacle to development, proof being the inauguration of major development projects in Sinai, including new tunnels beneath the Suez Canal. Indeed, the Sinai Development Committee met this week under the supervision of the prime minister to follow through on development projects across the peninsula.

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