What is the role of Bedouin tribes in Sinai’s insurgency?

Daily News Egypt
10 Min Read
Khaled Okasha
Khaled Okasha
Khaled Okasha

By Khaled Okasha

On 26 August 2012, at exactly 10:30am, Ibrahim Oweida Abu Youssef was assassinated by an explosive device planted on the route to his house in the town of Khariza in Al-Hasna City, south of Al-Arish according to a statement by Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis group a few days after. The information in the statement is correct, and the statement itself was long, and was followed by a video and a publication that included a tremendous amount of information that was proven accurate and true by the security agencies.

This is why that information is worth narrating and analysing with due concentration, and we will not deviate from the information contained in the statement, except for a few additions which clarify the circumstances. For example, these events took place when the group was working by itself after the 25 January Revolution, along with many other groups that were present at the same time. All these groups then came together under the flag of Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, as it was the largest and most capable of all the groups.

The group said in their statement that, right after the incident, its members were alert and conducted an extensive investigation until they reached the details of the incident, and those who participated in it. They were a group of four Israeli persons who planted an explosive device on the Mujahid brother with the help of their spies on Saturday 25 August 2012. They then retreated and the explosion occurred, when Abu Youssef passed by with his motorcycle. The spies who participated in the operation were identified.

The statement said: “Within three days, the Mujahideen of Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis were able to capture the primary spy in this operation, Mnazl Mohammed Suleiman Salama. Salama was responsible for recruiting the rest of the spies and he was responsible for watching the Martyr and by investigating with him the brothers reached the full details of the operation which are as follows:

“Israeli Mossad targeted the assassination of Ibrahim Oweida for some time because of his activity in the large Jihadist operations against the Jews in addition to operations in which he personally killed a number of Jews. Thus, the Mossad decided to assassinate him, and three Egyptian spies were used to watch him and to show the Zionist officers who performed the operation to the area of the operation. These spies are Mnazl Mohammed Suleiman Salama, Salama Mohamed Salama Al-Awaida, and Suleiman Salama Hemdan.

“Al-Awaida put an electronic chip under the gas tank of Oweida’s motorcycle a week before the assassination. The function of this chip is to release a signal that would be picked up by the explosive device when the motorcycle passes over it, closing the explosion circuit in the device and triggering the explosion once the target passes over it.”

The group revealed that this operation was conducted in two attempts, during which four Zionists penetrated the Egyptian borders and reached the road of Oweida’s town Khariza twice. In the first attempt, they failed because Oweida was not in town at the time, but the second attempt was successful and its details were as follows: “The three spies, in agreement with the Mossad officers, crossed the borders into the occupied Palestinian lands on 24 August. They returned on Saturday accompanying the four Zionists, each of them carrying a bag with a device of 20 kg of highly explosive material and an automatic weapon.

“The Zionists penetrated the Egyptian border and proceeded for 15 km into the Egyptian soil to the town of Khariza, which they reached at 9 pm to plant one of the explosive devices on the road to Oweida’s house. At 1 am the Zionists retreated accompanied by the spies across the Egyptian borders.”

The group’s statement said that the spy, Mnazl Salama, whose involvement was discovered by the Mujahedeen, was quickly captured in a tight ambush by the Mujahedeen. After investigating with him, Salama later gave all the details of the operation and confessed to his crime.

As for the spy Suleiman Salama Hemdan, as soon as his family found out his involvement in the matter and his cooperation with the Mossad, they disowned him and handed him over to Oweida’s family to retaliate against him. Meanwhile, Al-Awaida escaped into Israel.

The first thing that stands out is that the assassinated man, the terrorist group’s leader, as well as the spies who were in contact with Israel, were from Sinai. They were not outsiders who were trained to form a terrorist group. It is one of the gravest issues dealt with in silence whenever we speak of terrorism in Sinai. Everyone discussed the crisis in newspapers and TV channels, referring to outsiders. Some of us even praised the people of Sinai for their historical and patriotic roles in maintaining Egypt’s national security. However, this role remained historical, and is now an exception, after so much bloodshed in Sinai, which makes silence a sin.

Instead of what could be deduced from this story, the question of tunnels is the first one that is yet to give us an answer. What of the tunnel tycoons from among the people of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid? These two cities are the hotbeds of operations for terrorist attacks against our Egyptian military. Is it possible that an alliance took place between those people, who are extremely disturbed by the security presence and the terrorist groups who move freely and conduct their operations in their areas? What are the details of the alliance? Were they limited to managing these tunnels for smuggling or are there graver issues still?

Shady El-Meneiy, a resident of this area, began his activity as a trafficker, cooperating with Israelis, and then became a leader of Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis. How many families helped him in his new work? This was before the internal disputes arose and before the beginning of killing sheikhs and figures who started to protest against what they saw on a daily basis.

We cannot fall for stereotypes. I used to be among those who remained silent because the whole scene included other parties that are hard to ignore. The patriots among them have become an extreme minority, and they have lost power, in light of the generation crisis among tribes, which is also dealt with in silence.

Sheikh Hassan Khalaf is one of Sinai’s oldest Jihadists and lives in Elgoura village. He is one of those bright examples, whose voice raises high with protest, saying that things will never improve this way. Many of those who follow the same doctrine, from his generation and younger generations, present an extremely grave issue; Sinai’s crisis is Egypt’s national crisis, and not just Sinai. One of the Sheikh’s students, Saeed Attiq, part of the Sawarka tribe, spoke of the issue in detail. He said that the crisis of Sinai’s people has a historical dimension; however, geographically speaking, Sinai is part of Egypt.

The presence of the Egyptian military did not take place immediately after 30 June 2013. The military only went to the far eastern point next to the border to dismantle the buried mines and control the unstable security situation. This is a huge mission and responsibility for the military and it has been exerting a massive effort for the past two years that saved the region from a dark fate.

The complications of these issues force us to answer some open questions, and unless we stop pushing a million Egyptian citizens to live and work in North Sinai, the threat and danger will remain. Even after military successes, security will then be temporary. The answer is that Sinai belongs to all Egyptians, and that all Egyptians must purge the city and stand by their military.

Khaled Okasha is a security analyst and the Director of the National Center for Security Studies.

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