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Is Egypt About to Become the Region's New Al-Qaeda Stronghold?

Published October 26th, 2017 - 09:15 GMT
Al Qaeda in Egypt may be facing a resurgence in the wake of last week’s desert attack (AFP)
Al Qaeda in Egypt may be facing a resurgence in the wake of last week’s desert attack (AFP)
  • Local media reports claim that last week's desert attack which killed scores of police officers in Egypt may have been carried out by Al Qaeda
  • Reports claim that the group may be enjoying a resurgence in the country after previously being overshadowed by ISIS-affiliated groups in Sinai
  • The terror group is thought to be led by former Egyptian security officials with extremist ideologies
  • The group, trained in Libya, is at war with both the Egyptian state and other ISIS fighters in the region

Al Qaeda in Egypt may be facing a resurgence in the wake of last week’s desert attack which left at least 30 police officers dead.

The attack, one of the worst in recent history, devastated Egypt and sent the country into a period.

The shootout occurred after the Egyptian National Security apparatus received information on the presence of militant group inside the desert of El-Wahat El Baheria road, located between the governorate of Giza and Fayoum on Friday.

While police are usually quick to blame militants affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, or both or this occasion no group has claimed responsibility and cops have yet to point the finger of blame.

However, local media reports claim that the militants form part of an al-Qaeda linked cell known as the ‘Morbatoon’ group, heading by a former Egyptian military officer and inspired by Osama Bin Ladin.

The group is allegedly spearheaded by former Egyptian army officer Hesham Ashmwai who began serving with the national forces in 1994.

Ashmwai was removed from combat duty after officials spotted increasingly radicalized tendencies including harsh criticism of colleagues who were not proficient in Quran, according to reports.

Following the Jan. 25 revolution he was referred to a military trial for allegedly inciting against the army before being discharged from the military.

Ashmwai joined other Al-Qaeda affiliated fighters in Syria and also helped to construct terror training camps alongside a number of former Egyptian police officers in Libya, reports claim.

The men later went on to join the Sinai-based militant group called ‘Ansar Byat El-Maqdas’, now known as ‘Sinai Province’.

However, Ashmwai allegedly left the group in 2015 after fighters pledged allegiance to ISIS – an ideology which he did not agree with, instead preferring the thinking of Al-Qaeda’s Osama Bin  Ladin.

It is thought that he returned to Libya, where he formed ‘Morbatoon’ a group bent on carrying out attacks n Egyptian police and security officials under the ideology of Osama Bin Ladin and Al-Qaeda, a group headed by fellow Egyptian, Ayman Al-Zahrawi

He has since released a number of audio recordings calling for attacks on targets in Egypt including police and security institutions.

However, Ashmwai and his followers have become targets, not only of the Egyptian state, by which he is wanted for numerous terror crimes but also of ISIS members in Egypt.

The divide between Ashmwai’s group and his former allies has grown deeper over the years and despite joint objectives in targeting the Egyptian state, the two factions differ on many other issues.

While both groups are seen as terror organizations by the west, their objectives and styles are quite different.

From the beginning, ISIS has tried to set up an ever-expanding Caliphate from which to spread its hardline doctrine.

Both perform Jihadist attacks against local and foreign enemies including police officers and tourists.

However, Al Qaeda is more concerned with militancy against supposed evil-doers than statehood.

Both groups profess hardline conservative doctrine, however, their methods at spreading it differ.

They have been at war in recent years and al-Qaeda linked militants regularly attack their ISIS-linked counterparts in Syria, Egypt and elsewhere.

"The dispute between the Islamic State and Al Qaeda is more than just a fight for power within the jihadist movement. The two organizations differ on the main enemies, strategies, tactics, and other fundamental concerns," a Brookings report said in 2015.

"Although the ultimate goal of Al Qaeda is to overthrow the corrupt “apostate” regimes in the Middle East and replace them with “true” Islamic governments, Al Qaeda’s primary enemy is the United States, which it sees as the root cause of the Middle East’s problems," it added.

This contrasts with the state-building model preferred by ISIS-linked militants in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

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