Egypt looks to strengthen anti-terrorism laws, speed up trials

The new body would be responsible for proposing amendments to laws to give law-enforcement agencies more powers and speed up trials of suspects.
Saturday 26/10/2019
Egyptian parliament Speaker Ali Abdel A’al leads a constitutional and legislative affairs committee in Cairo, last March. (AFP)
Serious concerns. Egyptian parliament Speaker Ali Abdel A’al leads a constitutional and legislative affairs committee in Cairo, last March. (AFP)

CAIRO - The Egyptian parliament has formed a new counterterrorism committee to revise national legislation and allow for a more effective strategy to deal with terrorists.

The committee, legislators said, would propose amendments to current laws to give law-enforcement agencies additional powers in the fight against terrorism and speed up trials of suspects charged with terrorist attacks.

“We are badly in need of a revision of our legislation so it can be up to the challenges we are facing and expect to face in the coming period,” said Kamal Amer, a former military intelligence general who is chairman of parliament’s Defence and National Security Committee.

“Massive funding is being made to terrorist organisations and this needs effective mechanisms to fight it.”

Egypt has seen a wave of extremism and terrorist attacks spearheaded by militias affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood. A branch of the Islamic State (ISIS) is present in Sinai.

Terrorist attacks since 2011 have claimed the lives of hundreds of policemen and army troops and have affected the Egyptian economy, especially the tourism sector, which collapsed in 2015 after the bombing of a Russian passenger plane over Sinai.

The spike in terrorists’ activities led Egypt to send tens of thousands of troops to Sinai and imposed an air, ground and maritime siege on the area, which shares borders with Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Egypt also beefed up security on the border with Libya, creating security posts in the Western Desert and establishing a military base near the north-western coast to respond to threats from across the border in Libya.

Plans for the new counterterrorism committee came as Egypt prepares for the return of militants who joined ISIS in Syria and might have escaped the prisons in Kurdish-held areas in north-eastern Syria.

“The return of ISIS terrorists to their countries will threaten the security of these countries. These terrorists will launch attacks once they return, form sleeper cells and recruit new people within their organisations,” parliament Speaker Ali Abdel A’al said October 20 while announcing the formation of the new counterterrorism panel.

Egypt does not give an official number of Egyptians thought to have joined ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Security experts, however, say hundreds of Egyptians travelled to Syria, especially during the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, which encouraged young Egyptians to join the war against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Hundreds of Egyptians have been reported missing in recent years and their relatives accused security agencies of kidnapping them and putting them in secret jails for political and security considerations. However, some of those reported missing turned out to have

joined ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria and some returned to Egypt and joined the ISIS affiliate in Sinai.

“There is a high probability that those joining terrorist groups in Syria are on the way back to Egypt, especially with the noose tightening around them in Syria and Iraq,” said retired police General Farouk Megrahi. “Hardened by years of fighting, these people will be a real security threat.”

Security analysts said they expect those returning from Syria to enter Egypt through either Libya or Sudan. Egypt’s borders with those countries have turned into hotspots for the smuggling of people and weapons.

The new counterterrorism committee will try to address these problems through legislation, lawmakers said. It will also consider measures regulating trials of terrorism suspects, they added.

The panel is to make recommendations for the religious and educational establishments, including upgrading school curricula and removing content that might indirectly contribute to the radicalisation of Egyptians.

“The fight against terrorism via security and military means is actually the final episode in a long series of measures,” said MP Youssef al-Qaeed. “The war against terrorism also needs to have its own cultural, religious and educational dimensions.”