On 9 December, six policemen were killed and three injured in an explosion in the Giza district of Cairo, near the ancient pyramids. The attack appears to have specifically targeted police officers. It was the deadliest incident in Cairo since May, when Islamic State gunmen attacked a bus carrying plainclothes officers, killing eight.
Anonymous sources indicate that two bombs were placed near a mobile checkpoint in Al Haram street. The street leads to the Pyramids and is often used by tour buses. The area has been cordoned off as police search for more explosives.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the incident, however the acts are consistent with a relatively unknown militant group operating in Cairo called the Hassam (“Decisiveness”) Movement. In September, Haasam Movement claimed responsibility for an assassination attempt on Egypt’s deputy state prosecutor.
The bombing comes days after the Interior Ministry announced the killing of three members of the Hassam Movement in southern Egypt, and weeks after they announced breaking up one of the group’s cells. Egyptian security sources say the Hassam Movement is affiliated the Muslim Brotherhood. However since 2013, the Egyptian government has been prone to attributing many militant actions to the Brotherhood, which is now banned and listed as a terrorist organisation in Egypt.
The incident occurs as Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi initiates austerity measures address a growing financial crisis. The government floated the Egyptian pound in November and cut fuel subsidies, raising the price of many necessities out of the reach of many struggling Egyptians.
While the attack does not appear to have targeted civilians or foreigners, visitors to the region are urged to remain vigilant, particularly when visiting sites popular for tourists.
A second bombing occurred later on Friday near Egypt’s Kafr el Sheikh. The bomb targeted police vehicles in the road, injuring three policemen and killing a motorist in the vicinity of the explosion.
In a statement on their website, the relatively unknown Cairo-based militant group, Hassam Movement, has claimed responsibility for the attack Giza attacks earlier in the day. It is likely they are also responsible for the second bombing.
The Islamic State (IS) group has claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack that targeted the Italian consulate in central Cairo on Saturday. The attack has demonstrated a further escalation of violence, which suggests that militants may be opening a new front against foreigners in Egypt.
According to Egypt’s health ministry, at least one person was killed after an explosion that targeted the Italian consulate in the centre of Cairo. Security officials in the area reported Saturday that the force of the blast, which officials have indicated was caused by a car bomb, shook the building in the downtown area of the country’s capital city. A spokesman for the health ministry confirmed that one person was killed and ten others were wounded, including two policemen.
Witnesses near the area reported that the explosion caused widespread damage to the building, with a security source disclosing that preliminary investigations have indicated that the attackers placed a bomb underneath a car and remotely detonated it. While the consulate was closed at the time of the attack, the building is located at one of the busiest intersections in Cairo, a major road that connects Ramsis Square to the heart of the city.
Just hours after the attack, IS militants claimed responsibility. In a statement that was carried on a jihadist website, the group indicated “through God’s blessing, Islamic State soldiers were able to detonate a parked car bomb carrying 450 kg of explosive material on the headquarters of the Italian consulate in central Cairo.” The statement further warned “we recommend that Muslims stay clear of these security dens because they are legitimate targets for the mujahedeen’s strikes.”
Until now, IS supporters in Egypt had targeted security forces in the country, however the militant group appears to be expanding its targets. Just last month, it carried out a suicide bombing near the ancient Karnak temple in Luxor. IS’ Egyptian affiliate, which is based in Sinai, remains resilient despite increasing pressure from the country’s military. Recently, militants operating in the Sinai Peninsula have escalated bombing and shooting attacks, targeting soldiers and police officers. Two weeks ago, a car bomb killed Egypt’s top public prosecutor while militants affiliated to IS attacked several military checkpoints in North Sinai, in what was the fiercest fighting in the region in years. At the time, the army reported that seventeen soldiers and more then 100 militants were killed in those clashes. Saturday’s attack on the Italian consulate in Egypt has also highlighted IS’ expanding reach. After the militant group seized large areas of Iraq and Syria last year, they have increasingly begun to expand into Egypt’s neighbour Libya, and more recently have claimed responsibility for high-profile attacks in France, Kuwait and Tunisia.
As many as six bombs have been detonated across Cairo, resulting in at least six injuries, including injuries sustained by a potential suspect. The first three blasts occurred minutes apart at metro stations in Cairo during rush hour. Reports have indicated that a fourth explosion detonated later, injuring the sixth victim. The blasts occurred at Shubra station, Ghamra station, Haydek al-Quba Station, and Ezbet al Nakhl station.
On Facebook, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior acknowledged only two of the blasts; those at Shubra and Ghamra stations. The ministry said that the explosion at Shubra station was caused by an improvised explosive device (IED), and the bomb at Ghamra station was a sonic explosive hidden in a rubbish bin. No one was injured in the Ghamra explosion. One man, considered a suspect, was wounded at the Subra station. He appeared to be carrying a homemade explosive device.
Metro services are operating normally.
Approximately an hour later, two other bombs struck near a courthouse in Heliopolis. Two IEDs were placed underneath two cars, causing damage to the vehicles but inflicting no injuries. A third IED was found in the vicinity and defused. Security forces are investigating the incidents and searching for further explosives.
The bombings are the first since President Abdul Fattah al Sisi became president in Early June. Violence and attacks targeting Egyptian security became commonplace after the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in July of last year. The attacks were originally concentrated in the Sinai Peninsula, a stronghold for militant groups, but gradually moved west into Nile Valley Egypt. The Egyptian government has accused the Muslim Brotherhood of supporting militant groups intent on targeting government and security forces, and in November of last year, the Egyptian government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, seizing assets and imprisoning large numbers of individuals accused of affiliations with the group.
While no groups have yet taken responsibility for the attacks, Sinai based extremist group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, has previously taken responsibility for some of the deadliest attacks in Egypt, including a bombing at a police station in Mansoura in December that left at least 15 dead and 134 injured. The group has stated that their violent actions are in direct relation to the actions taken against the Muslim Brotherhood by the Egyptian government and security forces. In April 2014, the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters designated Ansar Beit al-Maqdis as a terrorist organization. Nearly two weeks after their designation, on April 30, the group posted a YouTube video in which spokesman, Abu-Ahmad al-Misri says, “We have suicide bombers who could turn Egypt into a hell. Our main target is killing off al-Sisi, the Egyptian army, the apostates, and Christians of Egypt.”
Immediately after Sisi’s landslide victory, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis issued a warning: “there will be a decisive battle between faith and disbelief if al-Sisi continues to rule Egypt.” On the militant group’s Twitter feed, the group added, “Will Al-Sisi make it to rule Egypt? If he does, will he continue? It is a battle between faith and infidelity. Finally, we would like to say to tyrants, expect a catastrophe in your backyard, God willing.”
As a result of these messages, security forces have remained heighted in Cairo and other major cities. Once sources said, “Ambushes will be deployed all over Cairo and all vital facilities, which are expected to be under attack by elements of the terrorist group, will also be secured.”
Apart from Ansar Beit al Maqdis, extremist group Ajnad Misr have also been in operation in Cairo, but have fallen relatively silent in recent months. Analysts also fear that the actions could be conducted by individual extremists, or fighters returning from Syria, whose goal would be to destabilise the presidency of al-Sisi and further weaken the Egyptian economy.
The US and UK embassies have updated travel advice for Egypt. Citizens have been urged to limit their movements. The announcement comes after a tumultuous series of events. Over the weekend, thousands celebrated in the streets of Cairo and across Egypt to mark the 3rd anniversary of the Egyptian uprising. Amidst the attacks, a series of protests among divided groups led to heavy conflicts across the nation. Clashes between demonstrators and security forces left at least 49 people dead and 247 injured. The Egyptian Interior ministry reportedly arrested over 1,000 demonstrators.
Further darkening the celebrations, a series of bombings took place across Cairo. Radical Sinai-based group Ansar Beit al Maqdis has taken responsibility for the bombings, as well as the shooting down of an army helicopter in the Sinai Peninsula on 25 January. The group released a video of one of its members using a surface to air missile to attack the helicopter.
On 28 January, members of Ansar Beit al Maqdis shot and killed an aide to Egypt’s interior minister. Two assailants on motorcycle targeted General Mohamed Said, head of the minister’s technical office, as he was leaving his home near the governorate building and Talbia police station.
The surrounding area has been cordoned off while investigations continue. Egypt’s Interior Minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, escaped an assassination attempt conducted by the same group in September.
Within hours of the assassination, security forces also found a box containing Molotov cocktails and a homemade bomb near Egypt’s High Court in downtown Cairo. The box was removed and dismantled, and the area was forcibly cleared of protesters demonstrating against the renewed trial of Mohamed Morsi.
During Morsi’s trial, he and 21 defendants were enclosed in a sound-proof glass cage in order to prevent a repeat of the interruptions they made in their first court appearance last year. The defendants, along with at least a hundred others who are being tried in absentia, are charged in the escape of more than 20,000 inmates from three Egyptian prisons during the early days of the 2011 uprising. Additionally, they have been charged with damaging and setting fire to prison buildings, murder, attempted murder, looting prison weapons depots, and allowing prisoners from the “Hamas movement, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Jihadists, Brotherhood [members] and other criminals” to break out of jails. Morsi insisted to the court that he is a political prisoner, not a detainee. “I am the legitimate president of the country […] and this trial is not legal.” The detainees chanted “Down with military rule,” and “null, null, null.” The judges postponed the trial until February 22 to allow the lawyers enough time to review the case files.
The US embassy has updated their advice to ask US citizens to elevate their level of awareness and limit their movements to the near vicinity of their neighbourhoods. Likewise, they advise overland travel outside metropolitan areas.
Similarly, the UK FCO has urged foreign nationals to be aware of nearby protests and leave the area immediately. Further citizens are urged take particular care in areas with a history of regular protests. On 24 and 25 January, some westerners “were singled out and attacked by some protestors.”
Ten Egyptian soldiers have been killed, and at least 35 wounded when a roadside car bomb detonated near a two-bus convoy which was carrying soldiers back to Cairo for their leave. The attack, which occurred on the road between Rafah and el-Arish, and is the latest and most severe attack on security forces in the Sinai since the removal of President Mohammed Morsi in July.
The attack targeted troops from the Second Field Army, which is headquartered in Ismailia. The Second and Third Field Army are responsible for security within the restive Sinai Peninsula and the economically critical Suez Canal. The army has heavily stepped up security in the region to ensure safe passage for ships travelling through the canal, and is in the midst of a large operation to eradicate radical groups from the peninsula, which has been rife with extremist elements since the 2011 revolution which saw the removal of President Hosni Mubarak.
As of yet, no group has claimed responsibility; however in another attack, Ansar Bayt al Maqdis (a.k.a. Ansar Jerusalem), an al-Qaeda linked group from the Sinai, has taken responsibility for the murder of a high-ranking member of Egypt’s National Security Agency outside his home in eastern Cairo earlier this week.
A statement posted to jihadist forums on 19 November revealed that the group was responsible for the 17 November shooting that killed Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Mabrouk. Mabrouk was responsible for the managing the security surrounding the cases against the Muslim Brotherhood, including the investigation of the escape case of President Morsi and other leading members in the Muslim brotherhood from the prison of Wadi El-Natron in 2011. Mabrouk was due to testify against former president Mohamed Morsi when his trial begins in January 2014.
According to the statement released by Ansar Bayt al Maqdis, the attack on Mabrouk, conducted by its Mu’tassim Billah Battalion, was in response to the arrest and interrogation of Muslim women by Egyptian security forces. According to the statement, the battalion is responsible for attempting “to liberate the female prisoners and to pursue who[ever] participated and contributed in capturing them, from officers and individuals of the Interior Ministry.”
Mabrouk was denounced by Ansar Jerusalem as “one of the top tyrants of State Security.” The attack on Mabrouk is “part of the series of operations entitled ‘Release the Female Prisoners from the Hands of the Tyrants’,” the statement continued.
Ansar Bayt al Maqdis also called for action from Egyptians: “Rise to defend your honour even if your lives go with it.” The group also warned that fighters are “lying in wait [to strike] those like” Mohammed Mabrouk if detained Muslim women are not released. They are seeking “any information that helps us in tracking those tyrant criminals who participated in imprisoning our sisters.”
Currently, protections remain in place in the Suez region; no disruption in the region or service of the canal has been reported.
On 19 November, several hundred Egyptians commemorated the deaths of protesters killed in 2011, calling for reforms. Many voiced criticism of the military, something rarely heard in recent times.
Since the removal of Morsi, the Egyptian police and army have been held in high regard. For the police, this is an unusual shift, as a great number of protesters in 2011 where revolting against police brutality. While the security forces have curried favour with a large population of Egyptians, the voice of criticism against the military has begun rise. Supporters of army General Abdel Fatah Al Sisi showed up at Tahrir during the protests, but were chased away by activists.
Protesters in Tahrir said the goals of the 2011 uprising had not been met and accused the security forces of acting mostly with impunity in the intervening two years. Protesters chanted, “Down with the military regime,” and, “We want to protect our country from oppression.” While many claimed not to support the Muslim Brotherhood, they also claimed that the military has more strength than it did before the end of the Mubarak era. One protester said, “We do not want Sisi as president. He is a strong defence minister and he should remain in that position. We want a civilian leader.”
At one point, security forces fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowd, but were unsuccessful. Reluctant to avoid clashes on a sensitive anniversary, they departed.