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Free Fire | | Counterterrorism, Middle East, The Arab Spring

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On October 20th, as many as 50 Egyptian police officers were killed in an attack while conducting operations on a suspected hideout of the armed group Hasm, in a desert town about 85 miles southwest of Cairo.

This was one of the deadliest attacks this year suffered by Egypt’s security forces. The Hasm movement claimed responsibility for the attack. Eight police vehicles were hit when they were following a lead which indicated that an apartment was housing eight suspected members of Hasm.

The group hit the convoy with gunfire and rockets said police officials. Additionally, after the ambush, the insurgents went through the disabled vehicles, seizing weapons and executing survivors.

An official statement issued by the Egyptian Interior Ministry put the number of casualties lower at 16 officers killed and 13 wounded, but did not explain the discrepancy with news reports. The statement also claimed that the police had killed or wounded about 15 of the insurgents. The statement said that the incident would be investigated.

Hasm emerged publicly  when it claimed credit for an attack on a police officer on July 18, 2016. Since then, the group has claimed credit for a number of deadly attacks on security forces and assassinations of public figures, including a failed attempt in August 2016 to assassinate the former Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa.

The Egyptian government accuses Hasm of being the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood which was outlawed in 2013.

Following the fall of President Morsi Muslim Brotherhood Shura council member Mohamed Kamal, began to structure terror cells, such as the Popular Resistance Movement. These cells under Kamal’s command were focused on targeting security forces and personnel, as well as attacking churches.

Hasm was created under Kamal’s influence, and the attacks which have been conducted recently by Hasm serve the Brotherhood’s interests. Kamal was killed when security forces raided an apartment which was being used as a Brotherhood safe house in October of 2016.  While Muslim Brotherhood has claimed that it wants to move toward a non-violent stance and denies any connection itself and Hasm, Brotherhood leaders expressed outrage at Kamal’s death.

The attack on the 20th came just a few days after Hasm attacked al-Arish  in the Sinai Peninsula. The group robbed a local bank and fired grenades, while shooting at security forces guarding a vacant church on the 16th. The services at the church were suspended several months ago following a wave of attacks on Christians in Sinai. 3 civilians, 3 guards and 1 soldier were killed and 15 other civilians were injured during this attack.  Al-Arish has been in a state of emergency with a curfew since 2014 when the Islamic State began deadly attacks and kidnappings within the area.

U.S. Embassy in Cairo  is aware of the threat from the terror group. In May of 2017 Hasm posted on their website a message threatening Americans living in Cairo. The threat was not acted on, however, the Embassy urged Americans to follow security guidelines issued by the State Department.

Insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula has grown since the overthrow of President Mohamed Mursi. Mursi was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who was elected president of Egypt after the 2011 Arab spring, that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule. Then on July 3rd, 2013 following the mass protests against his rule, Mursi was removed by the military. The current president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been carrying out an extensive campaign to crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood’s   base of support by jailing many of the group’s members on charges of terrorism, rioting, and incitement to violence.

On the 24th Egyptian security forces arrested 12 suspected members of Hasm, and confiscated weapons and explosive devices. The members arrested were located in the province of Fayoum about 40 miles south of Cairo. The Egyptian Interior Ministry did not state whether the members arrested were involved in the attack on the 16th or the 20th.

With Hasm’s attacks on government officials, servicemen and increasingly civilians, specifically in the Sinai region, the Egyptian government should continue to target the terror group through investigations and military action if the Egyptian government wants to counter the group’s growing insurgency. The government also needs to address the direct links between Hasm and the Muslim Brotherhood, and more effectively present this case to it’s allies in order to receive international assistance in halting their violent acts of terror.

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