CAIRO: A shootout in El-Amireya neighborhood east of Cairo on Tuesday between police forces and a terrorist cell ended with the death of seven terrorists and one police officer.
The gunfight seems to be part of growing signs that terrorism is on the rise in Egypt.
The first indication of such an increase, according to security expert Hisham Belal, is the timing of the attacks. The Interior Ministry said in a statement that the terrorists were planning to attack during the Christian Coptic holiday celebrations in Egypt, adding that they had procured the necessary weapons. The Interior Ministry added that the terrorist cell used several places to hide in east and south Cairo where these venues were used as a launching pad to carry out their operations, coinciding with the Christian holiday.
“The terrorists were planning to exploit the coronavirus crisis, thus signifying that they are mean and vile people who hide behind the veil of religion while they know nothing about religion,” Belal said.
However, Belal added that Egyptian police are on high alert “despite the pandemic we are passing through.” Quick action by national security officers contributed to squashing the operations, he said.
The Interior Ministry statement said that the national security sector detected elements of the cell and dealt with them decisively, which resulted in the killing of seven terrorists who were found possessing six rifles, four cartridge guns, and huge amounts of explosives and various types of gunfire.
The statement added that “at a time when the state with all its institutions is battling the coronavirus, it continues to fight terrorism and terrorists who thought that this crisis could help them carry out their criminal acts.”
Egyptian Coptic activist and intellectual, Rober El-Fares, points to other indications that terrorism has recently re-emerged in the country, saying terrorists had returned to target Copts, “something they had stopped in recent years after the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood was toppled in Egypt.”
“They started planning following the dispersal of the Rabaa El-Adaweya sit-in in 2013, when they began attacking churches and monasteries,” El-Fares said. “That same year, they attacked Copts during a wedding in Al-Athraa Church in Cairo’s El-Warraq neighborhood.” Four people, including two girls aged eight and 12, were shot dead, and at least another 18 were injured.
“They continued their attacks by killing priests in northern Sinai, when Daesh slaughtered 21 Copts in Libya (in 2017), in addition to the terrorist attack in December 2016 on St. Peter’s Church in which 29 worshippers were killed.”
For years, Egypt has been battling a low-level terrorist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, which at times has spilt over into the country’s major cities.
In April 2017, two attacks were launched during the Palm Sunday mass. The first was in Margerges Church in the city of Tanta, in the Gharbeya governorate. Hours later, a second explosion ripped through Alexandria’s Cathedral. At least 45 people were reported killed and 126 injured in the two suicide bombings.
Terrorists also attacked a bus transporting Christians in May 2017 in Minya governorate, killing 29 people.
Five people, including a Muslim police officer guarding Marmina Church in Helwan in southern Cairo in December 2017, were killed.
In 2018, terrorists targeted a bus transporting Copts on the road to Saint Samuel Monastery on Al-Qalmoun Mountain in Minya, killing seven Egyptians.
Former assistant to the interior minister, Farouk El-Meqrahy, underlined the importance of pre-emptive strikes as part of several police raids against terrorists with the aim of maintaining the safety and security of the nation.
He said such repeated pre-emptive security strikes against terrorists had led to a decline in terrorist attacks during the past two years.
Member of Parliament Abdel-Hady El-Qasaby described to Arab News the strong bond between police and the public in the fight against terrorism. In the El-Amireya gun battle, police officers called on residents to stay away from the windows of their homes and from building entrances to avoid being struck by stray bullets.
“Residents responded to the calls of the police,” El-Qasaby said. He added that many residents wanted to take part in the battle.
Meanwhile, several MPs hailed the police actions in dealing with the terrorists. El-Qasaby underlined the country’s “huge appreciation” of “martyrs who die while defending the nation.”
Minutes after the El-Amireya battle ended, the name of the policeman who died during the confrontation, national security officer, Mohamed El-Houfy, went viral on social media.
“It was an appreciation of anyone who carries out his duty in serving the nation regardless of his job or position,” El-Qasaby said.
El-Qasaby compared the heroism shown by the police with a mob in the village of Shobra El-Bahow, which recently refused to allow the burial of a doctor who had died of the coronavirus for fear of becoming infected.
Said El-Qasaby: “It is a deviant attitude among Egyptians who appreciate the sacrifices of their people.”