Egypt closes in on Muslim Brotherhood
Cairo- The death of eight militants in late July in the central province of Fayoum was the latest in a series of military operations by Egyptian authorities to eradicate the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and affiliated militant groups.
The militants were members of the Hasm Movement, a mysterious militant group that appeared in January 2014, six months after the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood President Muhammad Morsi.
Egypt is fighting a branch of the Islamic State (ISIS) that established a stronghold in the Sinai Peninsula but Hasm could be a greater threat, given the Muslim Brotherhood’s historic popularity in Egypt.
“The other thing is that most of these members do not have criminal records,” said Fouad Allam, a retired police general. “This is why tracking and arresting them, even after they carry out operations, is not an easy matter.”
Many militant groups emerged following Morsi’s ouster in July 2013. Some were formed by disgruntled Muslim Brotherhood members and sympathisers who viewed the post-Morsi authorities as putschists.
Hasm is believed to be the successor to the Muslim Brotherhood’s military wing, which carried out attacks throughout Egypt’s history, including assassinations.
In addition to killing a large number of police and security officers, Hasm claimed responsibility for the attempted assassination of former Mufti Ali Gomaa in August 2016 and Assistant Prosecutor-General Zakaria Abdel Aziz in September 2016.
Unlike ISIS, Hasm’s claims of responsibility for attacks are rare and it seems to prefer to operate in the shadows. Not much is known about where the group gets its arms or funding or how many active members of Hasm are operating in Egypt but it is clear from the operations it has claimed, or is believed by authorities to be responsible for, that Hasm fighters are well-armed and trained.
Authorities obtained concrete information about the group in September 2016 after arresting Hasm member Magdi Shalash.
He reportedly gave valuable information about Hasm’s leaders, including Mohamed Kamal, the group’s main financier who was killed in his flat in southern Cairo on October 1. Egyptian security apparatus portrayed that event as a major blow to Hasm.
Documents in Kamal’s flat provided significant intelligence about Hasm’s planning, including a list of names of those with ties to the group.
“The documents seized at Kamal’s flat decided the course of police action against Hasm in the following months,” said retired police General Mamdouh al-Kidwani. “These documents were a real treasure trove that helped police solve the two-and-a-half-year puzzle represented by Hasm.”
Dozens of Hasm members, including key figures, were rounded up or killed in shoot-outs with police. Hasm, Kidawni said, is capable of carrying out attacks, even though it was significantly weakened.
Hasm’s elimination would not signal an end to violent Muslim Brotherhood groups in Egypt, Allam said, adding: “Those planning this violence live outside Egypt and are capable of raising huge amounts of money to finance terrorist operations inside the country.”
Many Muslim Brotherhood leaders fled to Qatar, Turkey and Sudan following Morsi’s ouster. Cairo has prosecuted several cases in absentia but has generally been unsuccessful in securing extraditions.
Hasm militants have testified that they received funding from Brotherhood leaders in Turkey. Some of the eight members killed July 23 received training in Sudan, security officials said.
“The success of security agencies cutting off the Brotherhood’s violent arms one after another opens the door for the movement’s total abdication of violence,” said Ahmed Ban, a former member of the Brotherhood. “By all means, this will open the door for more stability but we also need to understand that violence is fuelled by ideas and ideas do not die easily or quickly.”