Egyptian President al-Sisi Survived Two Assassination Attempts

Col. (res.) Dr. Shaul Shay considers the plots to assassinate the Egyptian leader in Mecca and Cairo and explains why it is in the world's interest that President al-Sisi remains in power

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (Photo: AP)

Cairo’s Prosecutor General said in a statement on November 20, 2016, that the country’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi had faced two assassination attempts: one in Saudi Arabia and the second in Egypt. The assassination attempt on al-Sisi was part of a larger plan to overthrow the current regime that would also involve the assassination of former interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim over the 2013 dispersal of Cairo sit-ins supporting ousted president Mohamed Morsi, according to the prosecution. This is the first time that Egypt officially acknowledged assassination attempts against al-Sisi.

Egypt will try 292 militant suspects over plots to assassinate President al-Sisi and attacks in the Sinai Peninsula. The suspects were also responsible for carrying out a number of high-profile attacks in North and South Sinai, including the bombing of a tourist bus in the resort town of Taba in February 2014 that killed two South Koreans and an Egyptian driver.

The suspects, including 151 currently in custody, were referred to a military court for alleged membership of the "Sinai State," the local affiliate of the ISIS group, which is leading an insurrection in the Sinai. The suspects were questioned about the accusations against them and 66 confessed during an investigation that lasted more than a year. Investigators say all the members of the terrorist cells advocated the Jihadist ideology and believe that state officials and members of the army, police and the judiciary are "infidels."

The Assassination Plot in Saudi Arabiya

The prosecutor said the terror plot involved members from terrorist cells in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. They were coordinating to target al-Sisi during his trip to perform the minor pilgrimage known as Umrah in the holy city of Mecca. The alleged attempt also targeted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. The Mecca plot was to take place at the Clock Tower Hotel. The prosecutor said the plot in Saudi Arabia was planned by two workers in the 76-story famous Clock Tower in Mecca. One of the terrorists in the Saudi plan was apparently so dedicated to making the assassination plot a success that he offered to have his wife blow herself up with a suicide belt in order to create the diversion during which al-Sisi and the Prince would be murdered. The prosecution did not specify how the plot was foiled.

The Assassination Plot in Egypt

The assassination attempt was allegedly orchestrated by a terrorist cell consisting of seven members – six former police officers and a dentist known as the "bearded officers," who planned to attack the president's convoy using explosive charges as it traveled in Cairo. The officers were arrested last year. The leader of the terrorist cell, a former police officer named Mohammed al-Bakoutchi, reportedly confessed that he had provided information to Sinai Province, ISIS's Egyptian affiliate, over the dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Rabaa sit-in. He also leaked information regarding al-Sisi’s itinerary as part of a plot to kill the President by targeting his motorcades.

In the past two years, there were several reports about plots to assassinate President al-Sisi:

·         Before taking office as President, al-Sisi admitted to surviving several assassination attempts during his service as Egypt’s Defense Minister.

·         The 'Arab Sharkas’ terrorist cell: A security source said that the 'Arab Sharkas’ terrorist cell admitted plotting the assassination of Field Marshal Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. The cell members were tracking al-Sisi, who they planned to assassinate on March 19, 2014, a few hours before they were arrested, according to MBC channel. An arrested terrorist led security authorities to the location of a terrorist cell in Sharks village in Qalyubia. The informer was arrested earlier during an armed attack that targeted two buses affiliated to the army in Al-Amiria, Cairo. The assassination plot was foiled before al-Sisi's announcement on state television on March 26, 2014, that he would run for President after first resigning from his post as Minister of Defense.

·         During his presidential campaign of May 2014, al-Sisi claimed that he was the target of two assassination attempts "I believe in destiny. No one will take my life earlier than is destined. I fear nothing. I have already survived two assassination attempts."

·         In August 2015, the Egyptian Intelligence Services succeeded in foiling the attempt to assassinate the President during the days preceding the opening of the new Suez Canal.

·         In December 2015, a military court sentenced three army officers to death in a secret hearing on charges of plotting to assassinate President al-Sisi. The three faced several other charges, including the preparation of a military coup, reported Al-Araby Al-Jadeed. The sources within the Egyptian judiciary told the newspaper that the men were also accused of trying to create a state of chaos in society and pave the way for popular protests to be led by members of the armed forces. They confirmed that "detailed plans have been seized in addition to explosives." It is alleged that the assassination plot involved blowing up the presidential aircraft during an overseas trip.

·         The Nouakchott plot: In June 2016, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi canceled his trip to Mauritania and sent Prime Minister Sherif Ismail to represent him at the Arab Summit. Government sources have been quoted as saying that al-Sisi canceled his visit based on intelligence that suggested there were plans to attempt to assassinate him in the Mauritanian capital. The Egyptian presidency stated that after discovering the alleged attempted plot on Sunday, al-Sisi reportedly mandated Prime Minister Ismail Sherif to chair Egypt’s delegation in Mauritania. Maximum security measures were put in place to protect the Egyptian delegation in Mauritania. At the summit, Prime Minister Ismail delivered al-Sisi’s speech on his behalf.

Summary

On July 3, 2013, al-Sisi, who was an Army General, replaced the elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi through a popularly-backed coup, and in 2014 he was elected as President. However, Islamists began protests which were put down by Egypt's security forces.

Two years later, Egypt is relatively stable: the institutions of the state are collaborating with one another, the opposition is weak, and Egypt has received political and financial support from its neighboring countries and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, the confrontations with the radical Islamic movements – including the Muslim Brotherhood – are far from being over and they endanger the country's stability.

The Sinai Province (the Egyptian branch of ISIS) has claimed responsibility for many attacks on Egyptian security forces in the Sinai and extended its terror attacks to other districts of Egypt including Cairo. The Egyptian security forces are conducting operations against the violent Islamic groups in Sinai and other parts of the country with limited success.

This is the first time that Egypt officially acknowledged assassination attempts against President al-Sisi, but he is not the first Egyptian president challenged by assassination plots:

·         Anwar Sadat, the President of Egypt, was assassinated by members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad on 6 October 1981, during the annual victory parade held in Cairo to celebrate the 1973 war. A fatwa approving the assassination had been obtained from Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the spiritual leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

·         Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak survived an assassination attempt on June 27, 1995, when gunmen ambushed his motorcade as he arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for a summit of African leaders. Although his car was pocked with gunshots, Mubarak, 67, was unhurt and he immediately returned to Cairo.

Egypt has a critical role in dealing with regional challenges including counterterrorism. Al-Sisi's moderate and pragmatic policies make him the right man at the right time to lead Egypt in the current turbulent period. The stability of Egypt and the success of al-Sisi's regime are fundamental for the stability of the region and the world.

It is the common strategic interest of the US, the EU, Israel, and the moderate Arab Sunni countries to support President al-Sisi in his fight against the radical Islamic movements in Egypt and to help him remain in power in order to maintain the stability of Egypt as a pillar of the moderate Arab countries.

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