There is no doubt that 20/10/2017 is a sad day that will remain engraved in the public Egyptian memory and is a black day in the history of the police in particular. It is the day that the crème de la crème of the police were betrayed. On this day, 55 of the finest police officers, who have distinguished skills, are highly trained, and who are members of special units, were killed in the biggest massacre against the Egyptian police. Fifty-five police officers and soldiers were killed in an ambush by a group of terrorists, while the officers were on their way to apprehend a “big catch”, allegedly dismissed Thunderbolt officer, Hisham Ashmawi. He has been accused of the majority of the serious terrorist crimes committed, such as the assassination of the Attorney-General. He has become the scapegoat on which they blame all their failures to protect national security, but their incident exposed another kind of flaw, i.e. betrayal, that may have surprised them more than it surprised us.
Indeed, it was a betrayal from within the police institution itself, which was referred to by former chief of the police academy, Lieutenant General Sami Annan, and Lieutenant General Ahmad Shafiq. The unit was deployed completely confidentially after receiving a tip that Hisham Ashmawi was located in Al-Wahat. How did the terrorist group find out the exact time the unit was deployed and manage to intercept and attack them? They destroyed their tanks, stripped them of their weapons, overtook them and shot them to the ground. It is clear that the unit was lured into the ambush. It was said that one of the officers was a double agent for the police and the terrorist group.
It is also strange that this unit, which consisted of several high-ranking senior officers, including generals and lieutenants, was not secured by planes in their mission, which raises several question marks regarding the whole situation. A unit of this size was left to its own defences. Even after the ministry learned of the situation, it did not send any planes or backup forces to help the unit, until ten hours later. The plane that was sent continued to hover at high altitude out of fear of being struck by missiles.
It is clear that the police institution was in a state of confusion and bewilderment, not knowing how to deal with the situation. It also failed in its planning ahead of the operation itself. All of these factors combined made it easy prey for the terrorist group. A leaked tape of one of the doctors working in the hospital the wounded officers were transported to showed this clearly. According to the doctor, the terrorists did not kill the soldiers the same way they killed the police officers. The soldiers were shown mercy and wounded to incapacitate them. This shows the humiliation and degradation inflicted on the officers by the terrorists.
The most surprising thing about this terrorist act, despite its heinousness, is the fact that the state did not address it the same way it did with other acts that were of a lower severity. The state did not declare a state of mourning and therefore, the media did not go into mourning. Meanwhile, the Jordanian media went into mourning. Even the official Egyptian television did not display a black band on its screen, as it had done with past terrorist acts. It continued to broadcast its programmes normally and even broadcasted shows, as it usually does on Fridays. It did not mention this incident at all, as if nothing happened. The news remained censored until the next day, when the interior ministry issued its statement, 24 hours after the incident.
Even stranger than this is the fact that Al-Sisi went to El-Alamein to attend a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of WWII, and he did not mention the incident in his speech. This raised many doubts and speculations regarding who is behind the act, if a state body was involved, and if there was a battle within the state bodies.
There are many questions given the lack of certain facts and information due to the lack of transparency. This makes anything possible, especially since the interior minister remained in his position and was not dismissed nor did he resign after such a major incident. This makes us wonder why he is being kept in his position despite the consecutive terrorist acts committed during his time, the likes of which have not occurred during the time of any of his predecessors.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.