ESW Week in Brief: December 4 – December 8, 2018

12/10/2018 . By TIMEP

Summary

  • Three counter-terror operations on December 5, 6, and 8 in Egypt’s Western Desert resulted in the deaths of 15 militants, including two suspected of involvement in the November 2 Minya attack, as well as the deaths of two Bedouin police guides.
  • Reports emerged that the Sinai Tribes Union assisted in a counter-terror operation in Jabal al-Halal on December 1. Mada Masr also reported that members of the Sinai Tribes Union sustained casualties in a December 4 operation.
  • The Islamic State’s al-Naba magazine reported eight attacks by Wilayat Sinai this week, including four improvised explosive device (IED) attacks: one on December 4 and three on December 6.

Egypt’s Ministry of Interior Reports Killing Two Suspects in Coptic Attack

On December 8, Egypt’s Ministry of Interior reported via its Facebook page that ministry forces had killed two men suspected of involvement in the November 2 attack on Coptic pilgrims in Minya, in which seven were killed and 14 injured. The ministry provided no details about specific units involved in the raid, which took place in Egypt’s Western Desert. In the report, which included photos of the incident, the ministry claimed to have discovered one of the vehicles used in the attack as well as the cell phone of one of the victims. The November attack was previously claimed by the Islamic State, but the ministry did not give further details regarding the suspects’ affiliations.

­This operation follows a similar November 4 raid that took place in the wake of the Minya attack, in which 19 alleged perpetrators were killed by ministry forces. The most recent raid also follows intensified activity in the Western Desert, where 13 militants and two Bedouin guides were reported killed in the week prior (see below). No further details have been provided on relations between those killed in the various operations.

TIMEP has previously noted an increase in deadly ministry raids, in which 146 have been reported killed this year, and 82 last year. As with the previous two raids, the majority of these result in no casualties among security forces and in some cases have raised c­­­oncerns about the identities of those killed. (For more, see external commentary by TIMEP’s Research Director and former Research Associate in the Intercept: “Mysterious Deaths and Forced Disappearances.”)

The Islamic State Publishes Biographies of Egyptian Army Officers-Turned-Militants

In the 159th edition of its al-Naba magazine, the Islamic State published a two-page feature on Egyptian military officers that joined the group in Sinai, with biographies of three men. The men were reported to have been supporters of former president Muhammad Morsi who became disillusioned with the Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of the state’s massacre of hundreds of Morsi supporters at Raba’a al-Adaweya Square in August 2013. They subsequently left to join the jihadist efforts in Sinai (though militants operating in the peninsula would not declare allegiance to the Islamic State until November 2014, the report does not specify the exact time period in which the men joined). The men contributed to planning attacks on checkpoints and to training other militants as part of the military strategy department.

The report follows other efforts from the Islamic State to highlight the presence of former Egyptian security forces in their ranks, including a November Wilayat Sinai propaganda video that highlighted two officers who had joined the group.

Assiut Counter-terror Operations Reportedly Kill 13 Militants

On December 5, unnamed security sources told Egyptian media that security forces killed a militant and injured others in clashes that lead to the arrest of another suspected terrorist in Dashlout, Assiut. Weapons, documents, and materials for building IEDs were reportedly found at the scene.

On December 6, Egypt Independent reported that security forces clashed for five hours with militants along the Dashlout-Farafra Road near the Assiut-Minya border, resulting in the deaths of 12 dead militants and two Bedouin guides; four were reportedly injured in the exchange. The raid involved government authorities reportedly included Egyptian Homeland Security, the Central Security Forces, the Public Security Sector, and local security personnel.

Reports Detail Sinai Tribes Union Involvement in Counter-terror Operations

On December 1, a Sinai Tribes Union-affiliated website reported that the union assisted with a counter-terror operation in Jabal al-Halal that allegedly killed three Wilayat Sinai leaders. Later in the week, reports emerged that a Sinai Tribes Union member had been killed in a December 4 counter-terror operation in an undisclosed North Sinai location.

The Sinai Tribes Union is an unofficial coalition of pro-government Bedouin tribesmen. They routinely support Egyptian security forces through media operations and intelligence gathering. It is rare, however, for them to participate directly in operations.

For more information on the Sinai Tribes Union’s role in the Egypt’s War on Terror, see TIMEP’s brief.

The Islamic State Claims Eight Attacks in North Sinai

In the 159th edition of al-Naba, the Islamic State reported eight attacks from Wilayat Sinai over the period covered in this brief, resulting in two deaths and the destruction of six vehicles. This brings the total number of attacks reported in North Sinai to 157, compared to 341 by this date last year.

Included in this total are three IED attacks and a sniper attack claimed by Wilayat Sinai in North Sinai. On December 4, Wilayat Sinai claimed responsibility for an IED attack on an Egyptian military bulldozer near Arish. Two days later, on December 6, Wilayat Sinai claimed two more IED attacks, in Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid, on military bulldozers; military bulldozers are popular targets for these IED attacks and are used to create buffer zones for use in counterinsurgency operations. The group also claimed responsibility for the killing of an Egyptian army officer in a sniper attack that same day, the 92nd death the group has claimed this year.

Wilayat Sinai Eulogizes Abu Malik al-Masri

Abu Malik al-Masri was eulogized in Wilayat Sinai’s “Caravan of the Martyrs” propaganda series. The release did not mention how or when Masri died. Masri’s kunya, or nom de guerre, suggests he originated from the Egyptian mainland. Previously, Wilayat Sinai last released a similar tribute to Saif al-Masri last week.

EDEX Wraps Up

General Tariq Saad Zaghloul, chairman of the Armed Forces Armament Commission, claimed that Egypt signed several memorandums of understanding during the Egypt Defense Expo 2018 (EDEX) with large, though undisclosed, corporations to engage in joint manufacturing operations. Zaghloul also specifically noted that Egypt would contribute to ammunition production for Russian Ka-52 helicopters and American Apaches.

On the sidelines of the expo on December 5, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi met with Sudanese Defense Minister Awad Muhammad bin Auf to discuss military cooperation, border control, and combating terrorism and illegal migration. The meeting was also attended by Egyptian Defense Minister Muhammad Ahmed Zaki, intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, and the Sudanese ambassador to Cairo. The Egyptians also met with the CEO of French aerospace company Dassault Aviation, Eric Trappier. Sisi expressed Egypt’s desire to continue developing relations with the French company, which manufactured the Rafale jets Egypt has purchased. In another meeting, Minister of Military Production Muhammad al-Assar met with the Malian army chief of staff, Brigadier General M’Bemba Moussa Keita, to discuss fostering cooperation with Mali in military manufacturing.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Meets with Sisi

On December 4, Sisi hosted U.S. National Intelligence Director Dan Coats to discuss Egyptian-U.S. military ventures and both countries’ commitment to combating extremist ideologies; Kamel and the acting U.S. ambassador to Egypt were also present during the meeting.