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Source: Jamestown Foundation

A Cairo-based extremist group using the name Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt) has intensified its bombing campaign in the Egyptian capital with a surprising attack on the Ittihadiya Palace in Heliopolis, the home of Egyptian president Abd al-Fatah al-Sisi. The bombing was part of the movement’s “Retribution for Life” campaign, apparently mounted in support of pro-Muhammad Mursi/Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations in the capital met with ruthless responses by Egyptian security forces that left hundreds dead. Ajnad Misr refers to Egypt’s police as “criminals” who carry out “massacres” and has made them the main target of their bombing campaign so far (Ahram Online [Cairo], April 3).

The movement announced itself via Twitter on January 23, following the announcement the next day with the release of its “Retribution for Life” manifesto. [1] The manifesto deployed the usual references to the Salafists’ preferred religious authority, Ibn Taymiyah (1263-1328), but also spoke in sympathy with the Brotherhood, suggesting it was only their failure to eradicate corruption that allowed the old military regime to “re-emerge in an even uglier and more criminal form” (Al-Monitor, July 3). [2]

The movement professes a reluctance to incur civilian casualties in its bombing campaign, claiming it had canceled many operations out of fears “shrapnel” could inflict damage on civilian bystanders (al-Arabiya, April 2). In its manifesto, the group appeared to have reached a conclusion in the ongoing jihadi debate over the legitimacy of killing innocent Muslims in pursuit of an Islamic state, declaring that those fighting the Egyptian regime “must remain extremely vigilant and careful not to inflict damage upon the innocents among us, even if they oppose us” (Al-Monitor, July 3). [3]

Ajnad Misr issued a video in April that claimed responsibility for eight bombing attacks in Egypt, including a series of bombings on April 2 that killed a senior police officer and wounded five policemen outside Cairo University (Ahram Online [Cairo], April 17). Within days of the video’s release, Ajnad Misr deployed a car bomb to kill police Brigadier General Ahmad Zaki outside his home in Sixth October City, later issuing a statement saying the time and place of the blast had been carefully chosen to avoid civilian casualties (Ahram Online [Cairo], April 24).

In the April 2 attack, two bombs were detonated in quick succession on the Giza campus of Cairo University, killing police Brigadier General Tariq al-Margawi and wounding several other officers. A third blast of a smaller device occurred as police responded to the earlier blasts, wounding the Giza deputy chief of police, Major General Abd al-Raouf al-Sirafy (al-Arabiya, April 2; Youm 7 [Cairo], April 2). In its statement of claim, Ajnad Misr said the last explosion was delayed to avoid harming civilians, though it may also have been intended to strike first responders (Ahram Online [Cairo], April 3). Police had been deployed on the campus that day in anticipation of a demonstration by pro-Mursi students.

The movement was declared a terrorist organization by Egypt’s Court for Urgent Matters in May as the death toll from extremist attacks since the anti-Mursi coup approached 500 people (Ahram Online [Cairo], May 22). Most alarming were the bombs detonated in several stations of Cairo’s busy underground metro system on June 25 (al-Arabiya, June 25; Daily News Egypt, July 3). The bombs were fortunately small in size and inflicted a limited number of casualties, but served as a warning that mass casualty terrorist attacks could lie in Cairo’s future. The attacks were not claimed by Ajnad Misr and may be the work of one of several other terrorist cells that appear to be mobilizing against the new government.

Another bomb planted outside a court in Heliopolis the same day as the metro bombings killed two policemen (including a senior officer) and wounded Major General Ala’a Abd al-Zaher, the head of Cairo’s bomb disposal unit. Al-Zaher was attempting to defuse the bomb after Ajnad Misr tweeted their location in an apparent change of heart regarding their detonation (al-Arabiya, June 25; Egypt State Information Service, July 1). [4]

Ajnad Misr stepped up its campaign significantly with a dramatic June 30 bombing attack on the presidential palace in Heliopolis (an integrated suburb of Cairo). Two policemen were killed and 13 others wounded as they struggled to defuse the two bombs planted just outside the palace. Most disturbing from a security point of view was the fact that the movement had issued a warning via social media on June 27 indicating it was about to plant explosives on the palace grounds, yet security services were unable to secure the area and prevent the blasts (Daily News Egypt, July 1).

Ajnad Misr’s membership, leadership and exact connections to the Muslim Brotherhood remain largely unknown, though it is possible the group has been created to enable the imprisoned Brotherhood leadership to apply pressure on President al-Sisi’s government, which appears set on the physical extermination of the Brothers and their ability to challenge the state. The group’s focus on police targets and stated reluctance to inflict civilian casualties is obviously designed to enable the group to attract wider public support, something the casual destructiveness of most jihadi groups has prevented in the past. Whether this approach will have resonance with the large number of Egyptians unhappy with the manner of the replacement of Mursi’s Islamist government by yet another pseudo-military regime is worth watching.

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