Crackdown by security forces 'alienating many young Egyptians'

Sinai jihadists say they are behind terrorist attacks on police and army

Cairo

Sitting on a large wooden chair with a green leafy plant by his side, the bearded man looked down to the ground and confessed to his alleged crimes.

"My name is Yahia al-Mongi Saad Hussein. My name in the movement is Nasser. I'm a member of Ansar Jerusalem," he said in a video aired three days ago by the Ministry of the Interior, which runs Egypt's police forces. A deep-voiced, off-camera interrogator then intervened and told him to "raise his voice".

He continued: "I live in Dakahlia. I joined the movement after the 25 January revolution, after the events around Mohamed Mahmoud [a week-long series of violent protests in Cairo in November 2011], and I trained in Sinai for two weeks."

He went on to detail how he and his colleagues were behind a series of attacks in Mansoura, capital city of Egypt's Dakahlia province, north-east of Cairo, including a deadly bomb blast on Christmas Eve at a security headquarters that killed 16 people, almost all policemen.

Mr al-Mongi is also the son of a senior member in the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organisation that last week was declared a terrorist group by the government after the 24 December bombing. The movement ruled Egypt until only six months ago.

If the confession is true, he is one of a number of people who, analysts claimed last week, are now being pushed towards terrorist attacks by the crackdown. "The current oppression is alienating many young Egyptians, particularly Islamists who [have] lost faith in politics and democracy and might adopt violence as the only way to deal with the current government," Khalil al-Anani, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told al-Jazeera.

The confession is the first piece of purported hard evidence produced by the authorities to link the Brotherhood to Sinai-based militants, including Ansar Jerusalem, a connection that is central to the government's case for labelling the group a terrorist organisation. Human rights groups, however, criticised the terrorist label as a politically driven tag to justify a further crackdown on the Brotherhood's peaceful activities.

Analysts said the confession, and those of others extracted by the seven-member cell accused of the Mansoura bombing, need to be treated with a measure of scepticism. "You cannot treat evidence produced by the current regime or the Muslim Brotherhood objectively any more," said Ziad Akl, a researcher at the state-run al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a Cairo-based think-tank. "It has been turned into a political battle. The confession could be true, or it could be made up. We will never know because the regime is not credible."

A military-backed interim government took over after the army's ousting of President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected civilian president and Brotherhood member, in July after a popular wave of protests calling for his removal. Since then, there has been a violent crackdown by Egypt's security forces against the Brotherhood and Mr Morsi's supporters.

Eric Trager, an expert on the Muslim Brotherhood at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said: "It's pretty clear the government is using the Mansoura attack as a pretext for going against the Brotherhood. The concern in the international community is that the Egyptian government is not taking the jihadi threat in the Sinai seriously, and is more focused on its own domestic politics than a very serious threat to its own people."

Hundreds of mourners gathered to protest at the funeral service for the people killed on 24 December in Mansoura Hundreds of mourners gathered to protest at the funeral service for the people killed on 24 December in Mansoura

Attacks against security forces have escalated since Mr Morsi's removal, with about 400 police and soldiers killed in bombings and shootings, according to Reuters. Sinai-based militant groups have carried out many of these attacks.

Ansar Jerusalem, called Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis in Arabic, claimed responsibility for the Mansoura attack. It has also claimed responsibility for a failed assassination attempt against the Interior Minister in Cairo in September, and for the killing of a senior national security officer, Mohamed Mabrouk, also in Cairo in November.

Islamist militants in the Sinai peninsula, a lawless desert region that straddles the borders of Egypt, Israel and Gaza, have increased their attacks against security forces, and expanded their reach beyond Sinai and into mainland Egypt with increasing sophistication. They have gone from shootings to the use of improvised explosive devices and suicide car bombings. One group, the al-Furqan Brigades, claimed responsibility in September for an attack by rocket-propelled grenades against a moving cargo vessel in the Suez Canal.

Sinai's militants see in Mr Morsi's removal as "an opportunity to promote their cause and portray themselves as the defenders of Egyptian Muslims", said David Barnett, a research associate at the Washington DC-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

"The Muslim Brotherhood has long been criticised by jihadists for partaking in the democratic process. Now that they have been overthrown after engaging with Egypt's political system, jihadists see an opening to possibly garner support for their violent approach," said Mr Barnett.

The Brotherhood won every election in Egypt since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Mr Morsi's removal was followed by a bloody crackdown by Egypt's security forces against the Brotherhood and its allies. Conservative estimates put the death toll since Mr Morsi's removal at 1,500. Hundreds were shot when the police and army cleared a protest encampment of Morsi supporters in August, in what was described as the "most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history" by Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy group.

Clashes between the Brotherhood and security forces continue and are likely to get worse, analysts said, as there appears to be little attempt by the government for reconciliation.

Thirteen people were shot dead on Friday as Brotherhood supporters clashed with police across Egypt in demonstrations defying the crackdown on the group. More protests have been called for by the Anti-Coup Alliance on Wednesday, the day Mr Morsi's trial resumes. He is being tried along with 14 other Muslim Brotherhood members, who are charged with inciting the killing of protesters outside the presidential palace in 2012.

Mr Trager sees the political conflict between security forces and the Brotherhood as a crisis that is unresolvable. "The Egyptian military is freaked out. They know the Brotherhood is coming for their heads, because of the way they removed them from power. So they're going to kill or be killed," he said.

Some of the fiercest battles between security forces and Brotherhood supporters have been taking place across Egypt's university campuses since the start of the current academic year last September.

Anti-military and anti-police graffiti is scrolled all over the walls of al-Azhar University in Cairo, where many pro-Brotherhood students have been holding demonstrations. "Morsi will return, CC is a killer" is one example, in reference to defence chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who could be Egypt's next president if he decides to run in presidential elections expected within six months.

Youssof Salhen, 21, an al-Azhar student and spokesman of the students' anti-coup movement, said students will not stop protesting until those who supported Mr Morsi's removal are judged for their alleged crimes.

"Any leader of the coup is a war criminal, and should be judged that way. A killer should be killed. We're not going to attack them personally, but they should be judged according to their crimes. If they are proven guilty, they should be executed," he added.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there