‘Disappeared’ Muslim Brotherhood member re-emerges with ISIS

Deeb’s story raised questions about ties between the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS.
Sunday 25/02/2018
Picture of Omar Ibrahim al-Deeb taken from ISIS video.  (Provided by Amr Emam)
Worrisome questions. Picture of Omar Ibrahim al-Deeb taken from ISIS video. (Provided by Amr Emam)

CAIRO - The release of a jihadist video threatening retaliation against the Egyptian military in the Sinai Peninsula has created questions about links between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic State (ISIS).

The video purports to show behind-the-scenes footage of ISIS’s Sinai Province affiliates attacking the Egyptian Army and police.

One ISIS militant in the video was identified as Omar Ibrahim al-Deeb, a 22-year-old among eight militants killed by police in Giza province last September. Egypt’s Interior Ministry had said Deeb was a member of Hasm, a Muslim Brotherhood group that has targeted Egyptian police.

The Brotherhood claimed that Deeb was not a militant and that he was in Egypt on holiday from his studies in Malaysia. A Muslim Brotherhood-related media outlet said that, while Deeb was an active member of the group, he was not involved in violence and accused the police of fabricating evidence against him.

The ISIS video seems to show that Deeb, son of prominent Muslim Brotherhood figure Ibrahim al-Deeb, had travelled to Mosul to receive training before returning to Egypt where he contacted Sinai Province and that he was in Giza to form an ISIS cell.

Deeb’s story, observers said, raised questions about ties between the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS. It renewed public discussion about Brotherhood claims, particularly over enforced disappearances.

“I think it is now clear where the dozens of people who are reported to have disappeared by the Brotherhood ended up,” said Dalia Ziada, the founding director of Egypt’s Liberal Democracy Institute think-tank. “The Brotherhood spreads false ideas about its members who leave Egypt to join terrorist organisations outside it by claiming that they had been arrested by police.”

Dozens of junior members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been reported missing by the group. These members, the group claims, were “forcibly disappeared” as part of a government crackdown on Islamists following the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood President Muhammad Morsi in 2013. Al-Shehab Centre for Human Rights, a local rights group, in 2013 said 5,500 people had disappeared since the 2011 uprising.

Last August, local NGO the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms said 378 people had been reported missing by their families in the previous year. Most of the disappearances were reported at the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), an organisation that was founded by the Egyptian government but which maintains that it operates as an independent agency.

Abdel Ghaffar Shukr, deputy head of the NCHR, said the agency received reports about the disappearance of 266 people in 2017 and that 143 of those were in police custody as suspects in criminal cases.

“The surprising thing for us, however, was that the Interior Ministry informed us that 44 of those reported missing had travelled outside Egypt to join terrorist organisations in other countries,” Shukr said.

It was not clear what had happened with the 79 people unaccounted for.

Mistrust between the Egyptian public and police means that many are willing to blame security forces for arrests instead of believing that loved ones left the country or joined terrorist groups.

“The video released by the terrorists in Sinai… reveals the way in which the Muslim Brotherhood utilises lies, falsification and deception,” a statement by Egypt’s State Information Service said.

A significant number of those reported missing by relatives were revealed to have fled Egypt to join terrorist groups, or to have joined domestic terrorist groups, such as Hasm or Lewa al-Thawra.

Security expert Gamal Mazloum said most of those reported missing left Egypt for Libya or Sudan. From there, they might have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS.

“This is why the authorities need to tighten control on the borders and prevent Egyptian nationals from reaching countries where they can be radicalised by terrorist organisations,” Mazloum said.

Hundreds of Egyptians are said to have joined ISIS since 2014. ISIS also has a presence in neighbouring Libya, as well as the Sinai Peninsula, with many Egyptians believed to have joined the group there.

Battle-hardened jihadists returning from the battlefield in Syria and Iraq represent a major threat to Egypt’s national security, officials said.

Sinai Province has stepped up operations in the past year, with analysts saying this was due to an influx of returning jihadists.

The Muslim Brotherhood regime actively encouraged Egyptians to travel to Syria to fight against the Assad regime. Brotherhood figures also boasted of sending arms and fighters to Syria at the beginning of the Syrian revolution.

“The Brotherhood coined ‘enforced disappearance’ as a term to drive a wedge between the people and police,” Ziada said. “It wanted to deflect attention from its members who travelled to swell the ranks of radical groups killing people in other countries in the name of Islam.”