ATbar Egypt - The Hasm Terrorist Group

Egypt - The Hasm Terrorist Group

19/03/2017 | by Shay, Shaul (Dr.)  

On February 11, 2017 the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters designated the militant Hasm group, which claimed responsibility for a number of deadly attacks on security forces as well as assassination attempts on public figures over the past year, as a terrorist group.[1]

The Court also designated a group calling itself the “Popular Resistance” a terrorist organization. The group, which was formed in 2014, first gained widespread attention in June 2015 when it claimed responsibility for the murder of the country's chief prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, in Cairo.[2] 

"Hasm" in Arabic means “decisiveness” but the name of the group may be also an acronym of Arabic phrase "Harakat Sawa'd Misr," which literally means "Arms of Egypt Movement".[3] The Hasm group’s official social media pages were launched in 2015.[4] After tracing the 'electronic fingerprint' of the group on social networking platforms, Egypt called on Facebook and Twitter to suspend the Hasm terrorist group's accounts.[5]

On January 18, 2017 Egypt's High State Security Prosecution referred 304 people to military prosecution for membership in the Hasm group. The prosecution added that the defendants were responsible for a number of attacks against security forces and public figures, including the assassination attempt of former Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa and the assassination of high ranking army officer, Adel Ragaei.[6]

The group has claimed responsibility for a number of deadly attacks on security forces and assassinations of public figures over the past six months:

On July 16, 2016, the Hasm group murdered Egyptian Police Major, Mahmud Abdelhamid, and took responsibility for the attack in an announcement published on Facebook. The announcement said that they killed Abdelhamid on July 16 at 11:10 am after targeting his car in an ambush on Tamia's main street. Major Abdelhamid was the head of the interrogations department in the police station in Tamia. Two of his bodyguards were also injured in the attack, which took place in Tamia. The announcement stated: "With the help of Allah and his force, the Hasm Movement announced its responsibility for killing the criminal Major Mahmud Abdelhamid". The announcement accused Abdelhamid of being a criminal and said the attack was the first in a forthcoming wave of attacks from the group: "This is recompense for the crimes, the violations and the work within this criminal organization. We vow to Allah and to the great Egyptian people that we shall not lay down our weapons until our great people will be freed from the oppression of the military machine and their militia until the last man of the movement and we shall only leave the land of the battle if we are victorious or we are dead."                                 The announcement concluded with the promise that "with our hands we shall protect our revolution” and also included the Quranic verse 9:14 from the Repentance Sura: "Fight them; Allah will punish them by your hands and will disgrace them and give you victory over them and satisfy the breasts of a believing people."

On August 5, 2016 two gunmen riding a motorbike opened fire at former Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa  and his bodyguards on his way to the Fadel Mosque in the  Sixth of October district, near his home, where he was supposed to lead Friday prayers. Ali Gomaa was unharmed in the attack but one of his bodyguards was lightly injured. The two gunmen fled the scene. After Gomaa escaped, the Hasm movement claimed responsibility for the attack through their official accounts on Facebook and Twitter.[7]                                                                                                                                  Hasm said the operation was carried out against what it described as “the military and its militias belonging to (Egyptian President) Abdull Fatah El-Sisi.” The group added that its militants halted shooting because of "the sudden appearance of innocent civilians on the scene."[8] The statement carried photographs of the two gunmen, seen pointing their rifles from inside a garden lined with palm trees.[9]

Gomaa was a key supporter of the 2013 ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi by the army. In public speeches, he has been advocating the use of force against Morsi’s group, the Muslim Brotherhood.[10]

On September 29, 2016 a car bomb exploded as the top prosecutor-general's deputy Zakaria Abd El-Aziz was passing in a convoy in the First Settlement area of New Cairo. Abd El-Aziz and his guards were not injured but one passerby was wounded.[11] In June 2015, Egypt's top prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, was assassinated in Cairo in a similar attack.[12]

The Hasm movement claimed responsibility for the assassination attempt. The group said that it set off the car bomb that exploded near a vehicle carrying the assistant prosecutor from his office to his home in Cairo. The group accused judges of sentencing thousands of innocent defendants to death, or jailing them for life, at the behest of the Egyptian military. Hasm’s statement included several photographs of what appeared to be Abd El Aziz’s car with the caption “target’s car” as well as his house and guards.[13]

On December 9, 2016, in a bomb blast near a police checkpoint in Giza governorate's Haram district, at least six policemen were killed and three others were injured. The blast struck near Al-Salam mosque in Haram Street mosque on Pyramids Road, the main avenue leading from the city center out to the Giza pyramids, which is often used by tour buses. The explosive device was planted in a car parked next to a security checkpoint near. The device was detonated remotely. The bombing appeared to have targeted two police vehicles parked along the road at a mobile checkpoint. It completely destroyed one of the vehicles and severely damaged the other. The Hasm group claimed responsibility for Giza bomb attack in a statement issued on their Web site. A statement attributed to the militant group circulated on social media networks claimed that Hasm operatives targeted “[President] Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Interior Ministry militia” in an “ambush with an explosive device” in an operation against Sisi’s “military occupation.”  The statement declared: “To the militias of the military occupation, we affirm that the blood of martyrs was not spilled in vain, but is the fuel of our revolution which illuminates the road of resistance, and is a curse haunting the murderers. There will be no security or safety for [Sisi’s troops] as long as we bear our arms.”[14]

On December 19, 2016 the Egyptian Ministry of Interior announced the death of Mohammed Ashour Dashisha, one of the Hasm group’s most dangerous members, after an exchange of fire with the police in a residential neighborhood in 6th of October City. The ministry said in an official statement that Dashisha had been using an apartment there along with a number of other Hasm members in order to hold meetings and manufacture explosive devices to be used in a series of hostile operations against the army, the police and the judiciary. Once the security forces approached the apartment, Dashisha opened fire on the troops who fired back and killed him, while a soldier was also shot dead, according to the statement.[15]

Following this incident, the Hasm group declared a new phase, which it dubbed “jihad and resistance," against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime.[16]

 

Summary

The Muslim Brotherhood won Egypt's first free elections after the 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule. But its presidential candidate, Mohammed Morsi, was himself deposed after mass protests against his rule and replaced by General-turned President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in 2013.

After Morsi was overthrown in July 2013, local Islamists sparked a domestic insurgency and in January 2015, the Muslim Brotherhood  called for "a long, uncompromising jihad." Security forces, judges and other senior officials have increasingly been targeted by radical Islamists.

Since Morsi’s ouster, the new government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been carrying out an extensive clampdown on Islamists, Morsi’s supporters and other government opponents, in which hundreds of Brotherhood supporters were killed and thousands more, including Morsi himself, were jailed or sentenced to death. The Egyptian government's crackdown has contributed to the Brotherhood's radicalization:[17]

  • The disruption of the Brotherhood's notoriously hierarchical chain of command undermined the organization's "old guard" leaders who had argued that violence was self-defeating.
  • Many Brotherhood youth spent time in prison where they were indoctrinated by jihadists.
  • Some Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members and their allies have gone to fight in Syria, hoping to gain battlefield experience so they can return to Egypt for a "jihad against the tyrant," a reference to al-Sisi’s regime. Approximately 600-700 Egyptians joined Al-Qaeda and approximately 2,000 others joined the Islamic State.

Egypt is facing an Islamist insurgency led by different Islamic terror groups:

  • The Islamic State’s branch in North Sinai (formerly Ansar Bayt al Maqdis), where hundreds of soldiers and police officers have been killed. In recent years, the group has extended its terrorist activities beyond the Sinai Peninsula to Cairo and other parts of the country.
  • Violent groups of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement.
  • Other radical Islamic groups such as: the Egyptian branch of Al Qaeda, Al-Murabitun; the Giza-based Ajnad Misr; the Popular Resistance Movement; and the Revolutionary Punishment. One of the groups, Lewa al-Thawra (Arabic for “Revolution’s Flag”), claimed responsibility for the assassination of army Lieutenant-General Adel Rajaaie in October 2016 outside his eastern Cairo home. Rajaaie had overseen the demolition of a network of smuggling tunnels between Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

The Hasm group’s affiliation is not known but there are three possibilities:

  • The group is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and  actually serves as one of its so-called qualitative committees. The assassination operations claimed by Hasm were similar in style to other attacks carried out by the Brotherhood’s qualitative committees that have targeted men from the investigations bureau for their prominent role in liquidating these committees.              Egypt's High State Security prosecution has said that Hasm, along with the militant group Lewaa Al-Thawra, was formed by leading figures in the banned Muslim Brotherhood in an “attempt to revive its militant wing.”[18]
  • The group is part of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis or an affiliate of the group. According to this theory, the assassination attempt on Gomaa was a response to the Egyptian army’s assassination of the group’s leader, Abu Du’a al-Ansari, in early August. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has extended its operations beyond Sinai since the Egyptian armed forces have placed its home base in Sinai under a tight siege.
  • The Hasm group is an independent group that has contacts and coordinates with other radical Islamic groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis.

One reason that these groups are dangerous is due to their ability to infiltrate into Cairo and strike at the heart of Egypt’s security establishment, which should be protecting the public against them. The impression these groups want to give is that the security establishment itself is not immune from their attacks.

The Islamic insurgency in Egypt is far from over and the Egyptian government is unlikely to end its crackdown on the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups anytime soon.

Despite ongoing political and human rights problems in Egypt, the United States, EU and other countries should continue to support Egypt's counter-terrorism campaign, and Egypt’s internal counter-terrorism struggle should be seen as part of the regional and global effort against the threat posed by Islamic terror.

 

Notes



[1] Egypt court declares militant group 'Hasm' terrorist organization, Ahram Online, February 11, 2017.

[2] Egypt court declares militant group 'Hasm' terrorist organization, Ahram Online, February 11, 2017.

[3] The movement calls itself also "The Movement of the Hands of Egypt" (Hasem).

[4] Who's behind assassination attempt on former Egyptian mufti? Al Monitor, August 4, 2016.
http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/08/egypt-assassination-attempt-mufti-ali-gomaa-gulen-turkey.html#ixzz4LlfjWXIW

 

[5] Egypt calls Face-book &Twitter to suspend 'Hasm' terrorist group's accounts, Albawaba, December 10, 2016.

[6] 300 members of Hasm militant group referred to military prosecution: Egypt State Security Prosecution, Ahram Online, January 18, 2017.

[7] Who's behind assassination attempt on former Egyptian mufti? Al Monitor, August 4, 2016.
http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/08/egypt-assassination-attempt-mufti-ali-gomaa-gulen-turkey.html#ixzz4LlfjWXIW

 

[8] China.org.cn, August 5, 2016.

 

[9] Egypt’s former grand mufti survives shooting west of Cairo, The Washington Post, August 5, 2016.

[10] Egypt’s former grand mufti survives shooting west of Cairo, The Washington Post, August 5, 2016.

[11] Updated: A car bomb blast targeting senior Egyptian judge in New Cairo, Ahram Online, September 29, 2016.

[12] Egypt’s Attorney General Barakat, 64, was killed when a car bomb struck his convoy in the upscale eastern Cairo district of Heliopolis last year. Sixty-seven people were referred to the criminal court over the assassination of Barakat, where the general-prosecution accused the defendants of being members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood who "conspired" with Palestinian Hamas group to kill the Egypt's top attorney. Hamas denied any involvement in the assassination. 

[13] Recently-emerged militant group claims attack on Egyptian prosecutor, Al Arabiya, September 30, 2016.

[14] Update: Militant group Hasm claims responsibility for Giza bombing, Mada Masr, December 10, 2016.

 

[15]Khalid Hassan, Can Egypt’s security stop terrorist attacks by small groups? al-monitor.com, January 2, 2017.

[16] Khalid Hassan, Can Egypt’s security stop terrorist attacks by small groups? al-monitor.com, January 2, 2017.

 

[17] Eric Trager, The flow of Islamist fighters from Egypt to Syria and the Sisi government's crackdown, Wall Street Journal, September 17, 2016.

[18] 300 members of Hasm militant group referred to military prosecution: Egypt State Security Prosecution, Ahram Online , January 18, 2017.