To the surprise of many people, it now turns out that the terrorists who initiated the cross-border attack at the Israel-Egypt border a couple of weeks ago did not fit the usual profile of Sinai terrorists: they were well-educated middle-class Egyptians, rather than local Bedouins.
Members of the terror cell behind last month’s lethal cross-border ambush on IDF soldiers were educated middle class Egyptians, not local Beduin as previously assumed, Egyptian media reports said.
According to reports in the Egyptian press, the two men, 31-year-old Ahmad Wajieh and his cousin, 25-year-old Bahaa Abdel Aziz Zaqzouq, were part of three-man terror cell.
Twenty-year-old Cpl. Netanel Yahalomi of the IDF Artillery Corps was shot dead while engaging the terrorists. He and his unit were giving water to African migrants who had arrived on the border when the ambush began. IDF soldiers killed all three terrorists within 15 minutes of the attack.
According to Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm, the two men hailed from the Mitkhakan village in Egypt’s Nile Delta.
Zaqzouq, who was married with two children, graduated from the Faculty of Arts at Minoufiya University, and was the only son of a family of four daughters.
His family was religious, according to another report in the al-Ahram daily.
Wajieh was a married father of two daughters, worked as an engineer and was a religious singer in a group in Qesna, which is also in the Minoufiya district. He gave recitals at concerts and weddings, the report said.
Wajieh’s friends told reporters that he did not belong to any political or religious movement.
However, a report in al-Ahram claimed that Wajieh had surprised his family after the Id al-Fitr holiday with a change in his religious ideology.
Some time before the attack, the report said, the two men left the village and their families did not hear from them.
One villager, named as Fathi Mahmoud, said that before he left Zaqzouq he talked about his love of jihad, his anger over abuses against the Prophet Muhammad and the struggle of Muslims in Syria.
The al-Aharam report said that neighbors of the two men in Mitkhakan were saddened and horrified after hearing the news that their fellow villagers had taken part in the terror attack.
The report questioned how the men, who had lived quietly in the village, had somehow been converted to jihadist ideas.
Ansar Bayit al-Muqaddas (“Supporters of Jerusalem”) a Salafi jihadist group linked to al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in a statement that they aimed to “punish Jews” for the anti- Islam movie Innocence of Muslims.
The Times of Israel tells us more about this new terror group that has taken responsibility for the attack and which seems to be yet another group upon whom Israel needs to keep a close eye:
The majority of the attacks along the Egyptian border in the past year were the work of a single terror network, made up of Islamic extremists who identify with the ideology of Al-Qaeda, Israeli intelligence sources said Tuesday.
The sources told Hebrew media that Ansar Bait al-Maqdis (Arabic for Partisans of the Holy Temple) is headquartered in the Sinai desert and enlists local Bedouins to its ranks, but that many of its members are citizens of Egypt proper and other Arab countries.
An analysis by intelligence officials of terror attacks emanating from the Sinai desert over the past year has revealed a common denominator, all pointing to one Jihadist network based in the Sinai, the sources said. These attacks include the Sept. 21 attack at the Egypt-Israel border fence that killed IDF Cpl. Netanel Yahalomi, the deadly strike on August 5 against an Egyptian military installation in Rafah, in which 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed, the August 2011 cross-border infiltration that killed eight Israelis at Ein Netafim and several incidents of rocket and mortar fire.
According to Channel 10 senior defense correspondent Alon Ben David, the group used to have close ties to terror groups in Gaza, but has recently taken an independent track. Israeli intelligence officials no longer see the Sinai as the “back yard” for Gaza activists.
Egyptian media reported that two of the terrorists involved in the Sept. 21 attack were from the Egyptian delta, and not Sinai Bedouins as initially believed. The two were reportedly well-to-do family men, who until recently had not shown any indication of religious fanaticism. One was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the party of new president Mohammed Morsi, and the second recently joined the hard-line Salafi Front. Both left their homes in August, telling their families that they had gone to join the rebel forces in Syria.
Israel and Egypt coordinate security arrangements along the southern border, and Egyptian forces have taken steps against extremists operating inside the Sinai desert, including the introduction of thousands of troops, armored vehicles and gunship helicopters.
According to this Hebrew Ynet report (no English translation I’m afraid), the revelation that these terrorists were normative Egyptian citizens is causing some embarrassment to the new regime in Egypt under President Morsi.
העובדה שהמחבלים הגיעו מלב מצרים ולא מסיני גורמת מבוכה גדולה למשטר החדש במדינה ואמורה להטריד מאוד את ישראל. פרופ’ יורם מיטל, מזרחן מאוניברסיטת בן גוריון המתמחה במצרים, טוען שכעת מוטלת על המודיעין המצרי החובה לפעול בעומק המדינה, במרכז הדלתא. “מאז נפילת מובארק התמוטטו מערכות הביטחון והסדר הציבורי”, מוסיך פרופ’ מיטל. “זה גרם לכל מיני קבוצות של פעילים קיצוניים, שקודם לא הייתה להם מסגרת, למצוא כר חופשי לפעילות. “.
לדבריו, מאז בחירתו מנסה מורסי לשדר שחרף העובדה שהשלטון נמצא בידיה של תנועה איסלאמית, אין בכוונתו לתת חופש פעולה לקבוצות ג’יהאד. “עכשיו המודיעין מנסה להחזיר לעצמו לאט לאט את השליטה, אבל מדובר במערכה קשה מאוד”, מוסיף פרופ’ מיטל. “כבר רואים את ההתחלה של התהליך בענישה של בתי משפט ובפיקוח של המודיעין שהופך הדוק יותר,
אבל ייקח להם הרבה זמן להתמודד עם התופעה”.
עד נפילת מובארק, וחרף הלחץ של השלטון הצבאי, פעלו הקיצונים המוסלמים במדינה תחת ארגונים היררכיים כגון “הג’מעה איסלאמיה”. אבל מאז ההפיכה עברו פעילים מקומיים וזוטרים להשתמש ברטוריקה של ג’יהאד. על רקע זה, טוען פרופ’ מיטל, מסתמנת תופעה של יחידים שמחליטים לעשות מעשה. “וג’יה וזקזוק הם בעלי משפחות ולא נערים בני 18 שפועלים מכוח התלהבות של רגע”, הוא מדגיש. “ההתמוטטות של הסדר הקלה על אנשים בעלי עמדות קיצוניות לפעול, ואת הזנבות של התופעה אנחנו רואים עכשיו”.
The fact that the terrorists came from the Egyptian heartland and not from Sinai is causing great embarrassment to the new regime and ought to greatly disturb Israel. Prof. Yoram Meital, a Mideast and Egypt expert from Ben Gurion University, asserts that now the Egyptian intelligence will have to work deeper into the country, in the centre of the Delta. “Since Mubarak fell, all the security and public order systems fell too”. Prof. Meital adds, “This has enabled all kinds of extremists, who didn’t have any kind of framework beforehand, to find freedom of activity.
According to him, since Morsi was elected he has been trying to show that despite heading a regime made up of an Islamist movement, he has no intention of allowing freedom of movement to Jihadist groups. “Now the intellgience services will try to regain control, but it is a hard battle” adds Prof. Meital.
Until Mubarak fell … Muslim extremists acted under hierarchical organisations like the Jama’a Islamiya. But since the revolution local activists have begun using jihadi rhetoric [...]
Against this background, Prof. Meital explains, we see how individuals decide on action. Wajieh and Zaqzouq are family men, not hot-headed 18-year olds acting out of a moment’s enthusiasm. “The collapse of public order has enabled people with extremist views to act, and the tail end of this phenomenon is what we are seeing today”.
This does not make for comfortable reading. I also wonder if Morsi is genuinely embarrassed by this revelation, or is it only plausible deniability? Let’s hope our intelligence and military are on top of the situation.