Are the latest terror incidents in Egypt a ‘last dance’ for militants or a failure in security operations?

Updated 22 February 2019
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Are the latest terror incidents in Egypt a ‘last dance’ for militants or a failure in security operations?

  • Some have speculated that the sudden spate of incidents is the militants lashing out to spoil the image that Egypt is returning to stability

CAIRO: Three terrorist attacks in the space of as many days have raised questions over whether the Egyptian security forces have brought extremist militancy in the country under control.

The attacks between Friday and Monday came after a period of relative calm. The Egyptian military has been involved in an extensive operation against terrorist groups in their stronghold in the Sinai Peninsula for more than a year. Police forces have also been carrying out operations against cells in a large number of governorates.

The first of the three incidents was a failed attempt to plant a bomb near security forces in Cairo on Friday. On Saturday, however, a massive blast killed 14 members of the military on a security mission near El-Arish in Sinai.
The third bombing on Monday could have been just as deadly. A suicide bomber blew himself up after he was chased by police in the densely populated Al-Hussein district of Cairo near Al-Azhar Mosque. In the end three officers were killed.
The attacks came after months of relative calm in an insurgency that began after the Muslim Brotherhood president Muhammad Mursi was removed from power in 2012.
Since then, militants have targeted the Egyptian security forces, churches, coptic Christians, tourists and ordinary Egyptians, killing hundreds.
In November 2017, gunmen carried out the deadliest terror attack in Egyptian history — killing more than 300 people at a Sufi mosque in northern Sinai.

In response, the military launched a vast operation in February last year to “eliminate terrorism in Egypt.” The operation is ongoing.

Some have speculated that the sudden spate of incidents is the militants lashing out to spoil the image that Egypt is returning to stability.

“[Terrorists] want to give Egypt a bad image to foreigners living abroad, on order to make a point. They want to abort the democratic reform process that Egypt’s been implementing in the past period,” MP Mohamed Maher Hamed told Arab News.

Author and political analyst Walid Qutb said Egypt is keen to host more important regional and international events and forums, including the African Nations football tournament, and a drop in terror-related incidents is key to this.

He said the return of terrorist operations at this time is an attempt to send a clear message that Egypt is not a safe country. What the extremists have done recently is a final dance and lost, Qutb said.
But political analyst Nabil Omar told Arab News that the elimination of terrorism requires more than just maintaining security forces.
There needs to be improved education and the spreading of correct information to improve the mentality of Egyptians, he said.
“I don’t think that the return of terrorist operations happening currently is linked to changes in politics in Egypt,” Omar said. “It has nothing to do with how well security is either. “Terrorist attacks are happening because the terrorists in question have decided to do so.”
The recent incidents in Cairo are both strange, Omar said. They targeted police forces in locations packed with civilians.
This could mean that terrorists want their attacks to be even bigger and deadlier, even if that comes at the cost of the innocent or unarmed.
“The positive thing here is that these recent terrorist attacks came after a long period of silence. During that period of time, the Egyptian military had the upper hand in relation to the terrorists – who used to be more in control before,” Omar said.
The attacks came after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi described to the Munich Security Summit this week the Egyptian experience in regards to terrorism.


Tunisia toils to find final resting place for drowned migrants

Updated 22 July 2019
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Tunisia toils to find final resting place for drowned migrants

  • A string of deadly shipwrecks since May have left the North African country overwhelmed with bodies

GABES: A putrid odour lingers outside a morgue in Tunisia’s coastal city of Gabes as dozens of bodies of would-be migrants to Europe pulled out of the sea await burial.
A string of deadly shipwrecks since May have left the North African country overwhelmed with bodies and struggling to find them a final resting place.
More than 80 drowned migrants have been retrieved from Tunisian waters — most of them victims of a deadly July 1 shipwreck that left only three survivors.
Fished out of the sea between the port city of Zarzis and the tourist island of Djerba in the south, their bodies were brought to Gabes hospital — the only facility in the region capable of taking DNA samples.
Under pressure from civil society groups, Tunisian authorities have stepped up efforts to systematically collect the DNA of each unidentified drowned migrant, hospital director Hechmi Lakhrech told AFP.
The samples could well be the only hope of informing the victims’ families of their fate, he added.
In the basement morgue, staff use surgical masks or simple scarves to fend off the stench of bodies stacked one top of the other on the floor.
Since July 6, the numbers have “overwhelmed” the morgue’s 30-body capacity, said Lakhrech.
With just two forensic doctors and two assistants, not to mention a lack of equipment, the facility is struggling to keep them properly stored, he added.
After forensic tests, the bodies are kept at the morgue until a burial site is found, which in Tunisia is complicated, according to Gabes governor Mongi Thameur.
Many municipalities have refused to allow the drowned migrants to be buried in their cemeteries.
“Some fear the bodies carry cholera, and others refuse to bury people in Muslim cemeteries if their religion is unknown,” he told AFP.
It comes down to “a problem of mentality and also of humanity in some cases,” he said, adding that many people needed to be “sensitised.”
At the Bouchama cemetery, the only one in Gabes to have so far accepted migrant bodies, 16 graves dug off to the side lie empty.
“My parents are resting here, I don’t want non-Muslims to be buried by their side,” said one local resident.
In front of the hospital, the stifling midday heat beats down as 14 white bags are carefully loaded onto the back of a garbage truck.
Once loaded, it will make the two-hour journey to Zarzis, where an improvised cemetery flooded with the bodies of migrants for several years is now full, and a new one has just been opened.
Each grave is marked with a simple plaque bearing the victim’s DNA file number and burial date.
“On July 12, we collected 45 bodies in one day!” said Zarzis deputy mayor Faouzi Khenissi, calling it a “phenomenal problem.”
The city has taken in the bodies “because we have this culture, we can’t just leave the remains unburied,” he said.
Zarzis is a hotspot for illegal departures to Europe and Khenissi says some of the city’s own youth have also been victims of the wrecks.
Municipal workers and officials take shifts volunteering after work to conduct the burials.
After three hours of prep under the blazing sun, 14 bodies are buried alongside the 47 others already laid to rest at the new site, just outside a shelter for rescued migrants.
Mongi Slim of the country’s Red Crescent called for “international mobilization” to address the issue which “does not concern Tunisia alone.”
“The country is already struggling to take care of rescued migrants, but even more so for those who’ve died.”