Security Update: EgyptNovember 28, 2013 in Egypt
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.