ESW Week in Brief: March 30-April 5, 2019

04/05/2019 . By TIMEP

Summary

  • The Egyptian Ministry of the Interior released a video showcasing a new elite Black Cobra counter-terrorism unit. This unit will be a division of the Central Security Forces.
  • On April 2, Wilayat Sinai claimed responsibility for an improvised explosive device attack on an Egyptian military vehicle, killing three.
  • A Twitter source reported on March 30 that the Egyptian Air Force had conducted strikes south of Sheikh Zuweid and Arish.
  • The Associated Press reported on two series of Islamic State-related prosecutions, which are advancing through the Egyptian legal system.

Video Showcases Elite Counter-terrorism Unit

A three-and-half-minute video, released by Egypt’s Interior Ministry, showed footage of the new, elite counter-terrorism Black Cobra force, to operate under the Central Security Forces (CSF) branch of the ministry. Scenes in the video included stylized footage of the unit exercising, rappelling, and training with weapons. One analyst noted that the firearms depicted in the video were mostly Russian, and that the unit was relatively small. Based on the unit’s equipment and size, the same analyst determined that the unit will likely conduct hostage rescue missions in “essential areas.”

Black Cobra is one of several special forces groups in the Egyptian military and interior ministry to focus on counter-terrorism, but is the first such unit in the CSF. The CSF is a large branch of the interior ministry, primarily concerned with crowd control in urban areas and used as a paramilitary force elsewhere, including in Sinai.

Wilayat Sinai Claims Single Attack This Week

Wilayat Sinai began April by claiming responsibility for an April 2 improvised explosive device (IED) attack south of Rafah. The group targeted an Egyptian military vehicle and claimed to have killed three soldiers. Casualty figures have become increasingly common in Wilayat Sinai claims of responsibility. The group claimed that it killed a combined seven soldiers in two March 26 IED attacks. In 2019, 13 of 41 (approximately 32 percent) Wilayat Sinai attack claims have been accompanied by casualty figures. In 2018, Wilayat Sinai released just 26 casualty claims of the 98 total claims that it issued (approximately 27 percent). When incidents are covered by independent media reports, casualty figures often widely diverge from the numbers presented in Wilayat Sinai claims.

Egyptian Air Strike Reported Near Sheikh Zuweid

A report on Twitter said that the Egyptian Air Force conducted an airstrike on a Wilayat Sinai hideout near Sheikh Zuweid sometime last week. The same report referenced that the air force targeted militants on farmland south of Arish.

Airstrikes have been a prominent feature of the Egyptian military’s campaign in Sinai but governmental reporting on air operations remains more opaque than reporting on ground operations. In February, a Twitter report said that the air force had conducted airstrikes throughout Sheikh Zuweid and Arish.  

Egypt Continues Islamic State-related Prosecutions

On March 25, the Associated Press reported that Egyptian prosecutors referred 28 terrorism suspects to court, accusing them of joining the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. It was not clear which court would be handling the proceedings.

On March 30, 18 suspected militants received life sentences for forming a cell affiliated with the Islamic State. The Cairo Criminal Court also sentenced 12 defendants to between 10 and 15 years’ imprisonment for plotting attacks against Christians in Alexandria. Of the 30 sentenced in the two cases, ten were sentenced in absentia. No further reporting was available about either set of legal developments. The broad mandate of Egypt’s 2015 counter-terrorism law has been applied to suppress political opposition, complicating analysis of the prosecutions.