Egypt prepares for ISIL retaliation after Sinai operations

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

Egyptian army armoured vehicles patrol a street in Cairo. [Photo courtesy of the Egyptian armed forces]

Egyptian army armoured vehicles patrol a street in Cairo. [Photo courtesy of the Egyptian armed forces]

Egypt has tightened security measures at vital facilities around the country in anticipation of any terrorist acts, following the army's crackdown on extremist elements in North Sinai, officials told Al-Mashareq.

President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday (October 22nd) ordered "increased security at vital facilities" after a high-ranking army officer was shot dead on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt's Ahram Online reported.

In mid-October, the Egyptian army launched a comprehensive campaign against "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) affiliate Wilayat Sinai .

The campaign was launched following an October 14th ISIL attack on an army checkpoint in the Bir al-Abd area west of al-Arish, in North Sinai, that killed 12 soldiers and wounded at least six others.

On October 30th, three policemen and three civilians were wounded when a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb near a security convoy in al-Arish . Wilayat Sinai claimed the attack in a statement posted on social media.

Enhanced security

Security agencies, including security units from the police, army and the intelligence services "have tightened their precautionary measures in all provinces, particularly in the city of Cairo, in anticipation of any terrorist operations," Brig. Mahmoud Salem of the Cairo police told Al-Mashareq.

These measures, Salem said, include increased security presence in vital areas such as train and metro stations, power plants, theatres, cinemas, large shopping centres, museums, sports clubs and public squares and parks.

"New temporary and permanent security checkpoints have been set up to bolster security," he added.

Investigation units have also conducted a comprehensive survey of residents living in the vicinity of prisons, hospitals and security headquarters, he said, noting that building management offices have been instructed to report new tenants or buyers to the local police.

New measures include planting surveillance cameras in certain vital areas and main roads and squares, he said, in addition to providing increased protection for security and justice department officials.

"These steps are taken to provide maximum security and protect civilians and institutions against any terrorist attack, as well as detain suspected terrorists without delay," he said.

Extremists suffer losses in Sinai

Extremist groups in Egypt were dealt a heavy blow after the latest intensive military operations against them in Sinai, said Maj. Gen. Yahya Mohammed Ali, a retired military officer who specialises in extremist groups.

"In response, they tend to take their operations outside of Sinai in an attempt to distract the security forces and open several fronts to ease the pressure on besieged terrorists in Sinai," he told Al-Mashareq.

This explains the "high security alert across most Egyptian provinces", he said.

Security services, as part of pre-emptive measures to crack down on extremists , have recently raided a number of suspect locations and detained several terrorists and their sympathisers who have been providing them with logistical and financial support, he said.

Extremists might resort to carrying out "smaller scale operations", he said, "in an attempt to prove their existence" after the losses they have sustained.

Global collaboration

"Heightened security does not only include Egypt, but also other countries, as surveillance and monitoring are conducted in collaboration with Arab and western security services to track some of the terrorists in our databases who might have fled [to those countries]," Lt. Col. Amin al-Zaini, of the Egyptian police, who is attached to Interpol told al-Mashareq.

Security measures are also tightened at airports and land and maritime border points to prevent the infiltration of terrorists inside the country, he said.

"We have a list of 150 names of people whom we think are in neighbouring countries or might try to come back to Egypt," said al-Zaini. "These individuals have been verified to be ISIL loyalists that are planning to work against countries in the region, including Egypt."

Heightened security measures also cover foreign missions in Egypt, as well as embassies, consulates and tourist locations, al-Zaini said.

The investigations "conducted with recently detained individuals were very useful in terms of identifying the movements of terrorists, and the places and people they might target", he said.

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