The fighting in Egypt between the Egyptian Army and the Muslim Brotherhood has not abated since the Army overthrew President Muhammad Morsi in July of last year. The majority of the violence appears to be at the hands of the Sinai-based Ansar Beit al Maqdis (Champions of Jerusalem), which was formed at about the same time Mubarak was overthrown in 2011. While most of Ansar Beit al Maqdis’ (or Ansar Jerusalem in some sources) attacks immediately after their formation were against Israel, with the coup in 2013, they have turned to targeting Egyptian Army and Police. They claimed responsibility for the suicide car bombing in Mansoura on Dec 24, which killed 12 outright, injured 130, and cause the collapse of a bank building. While it has never specifically said so, members of “Brotherhood Without Violence,” which claims to contain former Muslim Brotherhood dissidents, claim that Ansar Jerusalem is “The Muslim Brotherhood’s Military Wing.” There have also been claims that the group is funded at least in part by Hamas.
Two more groups known to be active are the al Furqan Brigades and Ajnad Misr. Both have claimed responsibility for multiple attacks in and around Cairo in recent months. The al Furqan Brigades’ videos are heavy on the Islamist propaganda, speaking at length about fighting “apostates” and “criminals.” One such video includes al Furqan fighters apparently firing RPG-7s at a container ship passing through the Suez Canal. In an accompanying statement, they claimed that the Canal “has become a safe passageway for the Crusader aircraft carriers to strike the Muslims, and it is the artery of the commerce of the nations of disbelief and tyranny.” They also condemned the Brotherhood for resorting to elections, claiming that the “bullet box” is the way, instead of the “ballot box.” Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt) announced its formation on Jan 23, and has claimed responsibility for ten attacks, including three bombs near Cairo University on April 2. So far, their bombings have apparently been small scale, and they claim they are targeting “criminals” within the Egyptian military government, and that the small bombings have been scaled to prevent damage to civilians.
Another group, calling itself Kataeb Ansar al Sharia fi Ard al Kinanah (Brigades of Ansar al Sharia in the Land of Egypt), on March 17 claimed responsibility for several small-arms attacks on Egyptian security forces. The identity of this particular group is difficult to determine, as the name Ansar al Sharia is pretty common for groups throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Whether it is connected with any of these other groups, to include the Ansar al Sharia in Libya that was involved in the Benghazi attack, remains to be seen.
Egypt’s security forces haven’t been idle, arresting plenty of suspected supporters of Muhammad Morsi over the last few months. On March 24, an Egyptian court in Minya sentenced 529 Morsi supporters to death in the largest mass death sentence in the country’s history. The Army has stated that the sentence is subject to appeal, but that it is a legitimate sentence, in the face of accusations that the trial was rushed. 376 of the defendants were sentenced in absentia, as the security forces only have 153 in custody.
Egyptian authorities also announced on April 6 that they will be trying another 68 people for forming a terrorist group and planning bombings and attacks against security forces. One of the 68 is Muhammad al Zawahiri, Ayman al Zawahiri’s brother. Zawahiri was arrested in August 2013, shortly after the coup overthrew Morsi. It has also been announced that Tharwat Salah Shehata, a major figure in Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and one of the council members of that organization alongside Ayman al Zawahiri, was arrested in Sharqiya on April 7.
The Egyptian press, as reported by Al Akhbar, has also started circulating the story of a “Free Egyptian Army” being raised by Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya. They have claimed that Libyan factories are making Egyptian Army uniforms for this organization, and that it is being formed under Qatari, Turkish, and Iranian patronage. They have even named a leader of this “Free Egyptian Army,” Sharif al Radwani. He is said to have fought in Syria, Lebanon, and Pakistan.
The Libyan government has denied that any such training or preparation is going on, saying that “The Libyan government and army would not take these issues lightly.” Given recent reports of the Libyan government’s weakness in the face of the militias in the country, it is difficult to tell how accurate this statement is, as opposed to a “Baghdad Bob” sort of denial.
However, the Egyptian claims have problems of their own. The claim of Qatari, Turkish, and Iranian patronage of this organization is especially problematic, given the current alignment of Qatar and Iran on opposite sides of the Syrian Civil War, as well as the regional sectarian Sunni/Shia conflict that is spreading into Iraq. While it is possible that they would work together against an “apostate” regime (Sunni and Shia had no problem working together when the enemy was the United States in Iraq), it seems like more of the conspiracy theories that can be found endemically throughout Middle Eastern press. Time will tell.
Image courtesy Al Akhbar English.