It has been a full year since the militant Hasm movement emerged on the scene in Egypt, claiming deadly attacks that have killed 17 army and police personnel and destroyed armoured vehicles and other state resources.
But the Egyptian forces have the group squarely in their sights, hunting down and killing a number of the group's elements in a series of recent raids.
In the year since its foundation, on July 16th, 2016, Hasm has carried out hostile operations against Egyptian army and police personnel and attacks on religious figures.
According to documents released by the Higher State Security Prosecution Office, Hasm has killed 17 army and police personnel and wounded 56 others since its inception, in addition to destroying 17 police cars and armoured vehicles.
A violent beginning
Hasm carried out its first attack in rural Fayoum province the day after it announced its foundation, assassinating Tamiya police chief Mahmoud Abdel-Hamid, who headed the local investigations bureau.
Two soldiers accompanying Abdel-Hamid survived the attack, according to the investigation conducted by the Higher State Security Prosecution Office.
"The movement’s first operation did not fully resonate with security agencies, which at the time did not realise the extent of the serious threat posed by Hasm," said Egyptian journalist Mahmoud Nasr, who covers security issues.
Egyptian authorities initially underestimated the emerging movement's ability to organise and arm itself, he told Al-Mashareq.
"Hasm considered its initial operation as just the start, then shocked security agencies less than two months later with a second operation on August 5th; an attempted assassination of former Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa," he said.
In subsequent attacks, Hasm employed tactics such as detonating improvised explosive devices (IEDs) at security checkpoints and engaging in armed clashes with army and police forces in Sinai and other Egyptian provinces, Nasr said.
It has used car bombs to target military convoys, he said, and has trained fighters it calls "hawks" to engage in armed clashes with security personnel.
In its most recent attack, on July 7th, Hasm assassinated National Security Agency officer Ibrahim al-Azzazi in front of his house in Qalyubia province.
Financing and modus operandi
The movement is funded by Egyptian figures in exile and inside the country who oppose the current regime, according to investigations conducted by the military prosecutor and public prosecutor offices.
The investigations reveal there has been co-ordination between Hasm and Liwaa al-Thawra, a group founded on October 21st, 2016, and that the two share a source of funding.
Liwaa al-Thawra's first operation was an ambush in Qalyubiya province in which seven Egyptian soldiers were killed, while its most notorious attack was the assassination of prominent Egyptian officer Col. Adel Rajai.
Egypt's National Security Agency recently arrested a large number of Hasm elements on the Egyptian mainland after receiving intelligence information regarding their activities, movements and involvement in terrorist operations.
"The Egyptian army raided the movement's hideouts and was able to kill many of its elements," former assistant to the Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Mohsen Hafzi told Al-Mashareq.
"The army was able to curtail the movement’s activity," Hafzi said.
Hasm elements ceased operations for a long period of time after the crackdown, before resuming activity this month with al-Azzazi's assassination.
Hasm elements have received "external training on guerrilla warfare that relies on hit-and-run tactics and launching surprise attacks on army and police forces", said Maj. Gen. Tharwat al-Nasiri, an adviser at Nasser Military Academy.
Extensive surveillance is conducted before an attack, he told Al-Mashareq.
"The movement relies on its intelligence elements, who are unknown to security agencies, to scout the location of the target more than once in order to become familiar with the streets that can be used to surprise the target and other streets that allow them to flee the site of the attack quickly," he said.
These elements are trained on the use of light weapons, he added.
Closing in on Hasm
In September 2016, security agencies arrested Raed Mohammed Oweiss, the first Hasm suspect, three months after the founding of the movement, and the prosecuting attorney charged him with involvement in Abdel-Hamid's murder.
Three suspects who took part in the attempted assassination of Gomaa, and two others who took part in the attempted assassination of assistant attorney general Zakaria Abdulaziz quickly added to the number of detentions.
At present, "the total number of suspects arrested on the charge of being members of the movement stands at 140, and they are all standing trial in military courts", former assistant to the Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Abdel Latif al-Badini told Al-Mashareq.
Meanwhile, Egyptian forces continue to target the group, killing three Hasm elements in a June 20th gunfight in Alexandria, killing a senior Hasm member during a July 11th shootout in Fayoum, and trapping and killing two senior members of Hasm as they tried to move to a new hideout on Cairo's outskirts, according to a Tuesday (July 18th) report.