Terrorism

Egypt hunts down Hasm Movement members

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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Hasm movement members train on carrying out attacks against Egyptian security forces, clerics and judges who are outspoken against extremist ideology. [Photo from Hasm website publications]

The newly emerged Hasm Movement, which has carried out a series of attacks and assassinations in the Cairo area, espouses the same extremist ideology as the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), experts tell Al-Mashareq.

In recent months, the group has staged a series of attacks targeting members of the Egyptian security forces, as well as clerics and judges who have been outspoken in their condemnation of extremist ideology.

Investigations into three men suspected of planning and carrying out a December 9th attack on a police checkpoint in Cairo that killed six policemen revealed the suspects belong to the Hasm Movement, the Interior Ministry said.

The three were arrested on January 5th, and the ministry later released a video in which one of the accused, Mahmoud Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed, confesses to planting the improvised explosive device (IED).

On January 18th, Egypt's High State Security prosecution referred 304 people to military prosecution for membership in the Hasm movement, Ahram Online reported.

The Sawaed Misr (Arms of Egypt) movement, commonly known as Hasm, is a terrorist group, Brig. Gen. Mahmoud Salem of the Cairo Police told Al-Mashareq.

Inciting violence since inception

The group began to make itself known in 2015 via websites and social media, issuing statements intended to incite violence "against police and army personnel and judges and clerics who promote moderation", Salem said.

"They have claimed responsibility for a number of operations, including the attempted assassination of Ali Gomaa, the former Grand Mufti of Egypt ," he said.

The group also claimed the attempted assassination of Judge Zakaria Abdul Aziz Othman, and the assassinations of Maj. Mahmoud Abdel Hamid, the head of investigations at Tamiya police station in Fayoum province, a police chief in Giza and another in the Mahmoudiyah region, he said.

Surveillance and tracking operations netted a large number of Hasm members, most notably Mohammed Ashour Dashisha, who was killed in a police raid on his place of residence on December 19th, Salem said.

Security forces also killed Hasm member Mohammed Abdul Khaliq Faraj, regarded as one of the movement’s most dangerous elements, he said, while a large number of Hasm members are now facing trial in Egyptian courts.

The capture of the perpetrators of the deadly December 9th checkpoint attack in Cairo's al-Haram area followed raids on a number of apartments in 6th of October City, he said.

"The tenants had been under suspicion, and were put under surveillance after being observed moving from one apartment to another to hide their tracks and avoid the eyes of the security services," Salem said.

Terror under another name

The group is no different than ISIL, and merely uses another name as an attempt at "dissipating the efforts of security institutions, which are waging a fierce war against terrorism", said military analyst Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim Ahmed, a retired Egyptian army officer.

The group specialises in targeting specific security, religious and judicial figures, he said, by carrying out retaliatory strikes to make up for the losses extremists are suffering every day in a number of Egyptian provinces.

"The terrorist groups using northern Sinai as a base of operations took advantage of the conditions Egypt experienced over the past years and recruited many members of extremist Islamist parties and groups that were dismantled and were no longer active," he said.

The group exploited national tensions to carry out attacks against security and army officers, judges and clerics who oppose extremist ideology, Ahmed said.

The adoption of the name "Sawaed" is disinformation designed to "give the impression that there are many terrorist groups present in the Egyptian arena", he said.

Additionally, he said, it enables the group to cast a broader net in its recruitment, drawing in those who prefer an "independent movement" to ISIL or al-Qaeda.

Ahmed described the arrest of the cell responsible for the checkpoint attack as "a qualitative achievement by Egyptian security [agencies] and evidence of their superior ability to pursue terrorists and uncover their hideouts".

Potential connection to other extremists

Its activity was first observed when a group of youth belonging to various extremist groups joined forces to form the movement, "taking advantage of the security situation Egypt was experiencing at the time", said Sheikh Nabil Naim, a founding member of the Islamic Jihad in Egypt who has since renounced extremist ideology.

These groups have clearly "received training on carrying out assassinations with gunfire and IEDs", he said, adding that this makes it clear "the [Hasm] movement takes orders from the extremist groups in Sinai".

The Hasm Movement "could be viewed as the Cairo branch of [ISIL affiliate] Wilayat Sinai", Naim said.

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