Deadly mosque attack puts Egypt’s Sinai strategy in spotlight

The Egyptian military has succeeded in hitting some of Daesh’s top commanders. (Reuters)
Updated 03 December 2017
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Deadly mosque attack puts Egypt’s Sinai strategy in spotlight

CAIRO: Egypt’s years-long military campaign against a terrorist insurgency in the north of the Sinai Peninsula is under increasing scrutiny following a devastating mosque attack last week.
More than 300 people were killed in Friday’s bomb and gun assault — the deadliest in the country’s recent history — highlighting the insurgents’ ability to carry out spectacular attacks despite the deployment of tens of thousands of troops.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi vowed to respond with “brutal force,” and the army announced it had destroyed several of the vehicles used in the attack and killed their occupants.
But for some analysts, the army’s muscular reprisals are not enough.
“I think (the Sinai) needs (a) smarter military presence,” said Zack Gold, an analyst at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center.
“The job of the military is not to protect the military,” he said.
“The job of the military is to protect the population and to secure the territory.”
He said currently soldiers were usually confined to checkpoints on the region’s roads instead of securing the population centers, where the insurgency has crippled the economy.
Timothy Kaldas, a non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said multiple foreign diplomats had told him that when they urge Egyptian officials to change tactics, “they get a lot of pushback.”
“They are basically told ‘not to interfere in Egypt's affairs’,” he said.
He said discussion of security strategy took place within a “small circle” and that the public was “not allowed to participate in that conversation to discuss what is problematic and what could be better.”
Egypt’s Western allies acknowledge the army has made some headway in containing the insurgency and forcing Daesh to change its tactics.
Large-scale attacks on the military have grown less frequent, as Daesh has increasingly turned to a war of attrition involving roadside bombings and sniper attacks, inflicting fewer casualties on the army.
The military has also succeeded in hitting some of the group’s top commanders, including overall leader Abu Duaa Al-Ansari who was killed in an airstrike last year.
It has largely ended the once-lucrative smuggling trade with the Gaza Strip by destroying tunnels under the border with the Palestinian territory and razing parts of the divided frontier town of Rafah to create a buffer zone.
But the home demolitions have stoked further resentment in a region that has felt marginalized for decades.
Kaldas said that situation “makes it easier for ISIS (Daesh) to recruit, it makes people less interested in supporting the government.”
Daesh, too, has sparked some antagonism with its tactics.
The terrorists have alienated the region’s largest tribe, the Tarabin, by executing dozens of its members for allegedly cooperating with the army.
Some Tarabin have formed militias to fight Daesh.
El-Sisi came to power after leading the military overthrow of his radical predecessor Mohammed Mursi in 2013 promising to restore security following the chaos of the Arab Spring uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
But four years on, the situation in Sinai is far from stable.
In November 2014, shortly after El-Sisi’s election as president, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, a Sinai-based radical group previously linked to Al-Qaeda, swore allegiance to Daesh.
Friday’s attack was carried out by some 30 armed men carrying flags similar to the black banner of Daesh, although the terrorist organisation has not formally claimed it.
The emergence of Daesh in Sinai strengthened the terrorist insurgency that began in 2013, with the Sinai militants drawing from the expertise of Daesh operatives elsewhere.
The Sinai Peninsula had long been demilitarized under the terms of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel but as the violence intensified the government responded by ramping up its military presence, with the tacit approval of Israel.
The region's biggest army was able to prevent Daesh repeating its successes in Iraq, where it seized a third of the country, including major urban centres, before declaring its "caliphate" in 2014.
One attempt by Daesh in July 2015 to seize the town of Sheikh Zuweid prompted the military to unleash F-16 jets, forcing the terrorists to withdraw.


Thousands of Houthi violations leave hundreds of civilians dead in Yemen

The Houthi violations included the random detention and abduction of citizens. (File/AFP)
Updated 22 September 2019

Thousands of Houthi violations leave hundreds of civilians dead in Yemen

  • The violations included the killing of 172 children, 106 women and 101 elderly
  • The report also revealed 12,673 families had been displaced

DUBAI: The Houthi militia committed 16,000 violations in the last three years against civilians in Yemen’s Al-Jawf province, according to the Right to Life Organization in Yemen.

The violations, between July 2016 and September 2019, included the killing of 172 children, 106 women and 101 elderly, there were also 786 injured, including 290 children and 113 women, state news agency SPA.

The report also revealed 12,673 families had been displaced, while14 homes, 45 schools, and 11 health facilities had all been bombed.

The Houthi violations also included the random detention and abduction of citizens during the same time.