The December Terror Campaign in Egypt

During the last month of 2017, Egypt has suffered numerous deadly terror attacks, which mainly targeted security forces as well as the Coptic Christian minority. Col. (res.) Dr. Shaul Shay sums up the bloody December in Egypt

The site in front of Mar Mina church, in Helwan, Cairo, Egypt (Photo: AP)

The attack on Mar Mina Church in Helwan

Two gunmen killed nine people and injured five others as they opened fire on the Mar Mina church in Helwan district south of Cairo on December 29, 2017, ahead of Coptic Christian celebrations. Security forces shot dead one of the terrorists in an exchange of fire outside the church while the other assailant has been captured. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement that was circulated on the messaging app Telegram. The statement said that ten people had been killed, and it described the victims as "crusaders" and "apostates." The statement also said that one of the attackers had been killed.

The interior ministry said in a statement that it had arrested an attacker on a motorcycle who attempted to drive through security forces outside the church armed with a machine gun, ammunition and a bomb that he intended to detonate in the church.

The ministry said he killed two people when he opened fire on a shop before heading to the church where he shot dead seven people, including a policeman. The arrested attacker is an active terrorist who has carried out a number of terrorist attacks targeting police and civilians, the statement added.

The attack came amid tightened security around churches and Christian facilities ahead of the Coptic Orthodox Christian celebrations of Christmas on January 7. The ministry of Interior has deployed 230,000 personnel to guard churches, parks and other vital institutions. Police have cordoned off streets around churches to pre-empt suicide attacks and installed metal detectors outside larger churches.

Egypt’s Security Forces Killed Three Members of Hasm Terrorist Group in Giza

Egypt's interior ministry announced on December 30, 2017, that security forces had raided a hideout belonging to the Hasm terrorist group at a farm on Korayemat road, near Atfih in the Giza province, killing three leading members of the group in a shootout. The farm was used as a base for plotting and committing terrorist actions and for manufacturing explosives. "A cache of weapons and ammunition was seized," the ministry said in a statement.

Ten other members of that group who are involved in the terrorist plot were caught in the governorates of Fayoum and Qalyubia at locations also containing ammunition and other tools, which were uncovered by police. Information also revealed that those arrested received training on using arms and manufacturing explosives at a location in Egypt's Western Desert in the Fayoum governorate, where plotters had listed a number of touristic and security spots in preparation for a planned Christmas attack, following the orders of a fugitive Muslim Brotherhood figure in Turkey, the ministry added.

The Terror Attacks in Sinai

At least nine people were killed in three separate terror attacks in Sinai. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks in North Sinai, according to a statement posted via its online agency Amaq, without providing evidence for its claim.

The terror attacks in Sinai were conducted a few hours after Egypt hanged 15 terrorists who were convicted of carting out the attacks that killed security forces in the Sinai Peninsula. The hangings were carried out simultaneously at Borj Al Arab and Wadi Al Natroun prisons on December 27, 2017. Most of the militants were from Sinai region and were accused of "joining militant groups and taking part in carrying out, planning and assisting in killing a number of army and police personnel in Sinai." This was the largest number of executions on a single day since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took office in 2014.

Last month, Islamic State militants fired a Kornet anti-tank missile at the El Arish airport during a visit by the country’s defense and interior ministers. The ministers were unharmed, but one military officer was killed and the helicopter has been destroyed.

The Attack near El Arish

A roadside bomb (IED) planted west of El Arish by Islamic militants hit a military vehicle, on December 28, 2017, killing six people, including a colonel who was the town's military commander. Three more soldiers were wounded in the attack.

Bir al-Abed was the scene of the deadliest terrorist attack against civilians in Egypt's modern history, when militants killed 311 worshippers in a mosque on November 24, 2017.

The Attack on a Bank in El Arish

Armed militants attacked bank (EALB) with RPGs, targeting the armored vehicle stationed in front of the bank, which resulted in an explosion. Two people were killed in the attack, including a police officer.

The militants in El Arish fired a rocket and shot at a police force who were guarding the bank, the sources said. The police fired back, but the militants fled the scene. Militants reportedly approached the bank, located on July 23 Street, in the heart of El Arish, through a nearby street. They engaged in a brief shootout with security forces before retreating to Karam Abu Negeila neighborhood. Meanwhile, eyewitnesses said another group of militants engaged in a shootout with backup forces near the fire station in Um al-Qurra, before withdrawing from the area.  

The Attack near Gifgafa

Armed militants had targeted Battalion 103 in the Gifgafa area in central Sinai using mortar shells, killing one enlisted military officer and injuring two others. They were all transferred to the Military Hospital in Ismailia.

Summary

The assaults in Cairo and Sinai came just over a month after Egypt suffered its deadliest terror attack, in which more than 300 Sufi Muslims were killed at a mosque in North Sinai, as the militant group stepped up its campaign of violence against Egypt’s minorities. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi has since vowed to use "brute force" to crush the long-running insurgency in northern Sinai and ordered the armed forces to end the insurgency within three months after the mosque attack.

Egypt's interior ministry is beefing up security as Egyptian Coptic Christians prepare for Christmas on 7 January 2017. Police have deployed 230,000 personnel to protect churches, parks and other vital public institutions during the Christmas season.

Egyptian Coptic Christians make up around 10 percent of the country's 93 million population. Dozens of Christians have been killed in terrorist attacks on churches and congregations in recent years. Last Easter, on Palm Sunday, at least 45 people died in twin attacks on Coptic churches in Alexandria and the Nile Delta city of Tanta. At least 29 Copts were killed on a bus en route to a monastery in central Egypt in May 2017, and a Coptic Orthodox priest was stabbed to death in Cairo in October 2017. The attacks have been blamed on, and in many cases claimed by, Islamists affiliated with ISIS.

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