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Conflict within Egyptian intelligence hinders counterterrorism in Sinai

File photo of Egyptian soldiers and tanks being deployed in the Sinai [file photo]
Egyptian soldiers and tanks in Sinai, Egypt [file photo]

The terrorist attack which the claimed the lives of 305 people in a mosque in Sinai last Friday has highlighted the structural weakness of the Egyptian intelligence services and their poor internal coordination, it has been claimed.

According to the French periodical Intelligence Online, Arab diplomatic sources in Cairo blamed the Rawda Mosque incident on the failure of Egyptian intelligence officers to work together. The differences between Major General Khaled Fawzy, Director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate, who is responsible for foreign intelligence and combatting terrorism, and military intelligence chief General Mohamed El-Shahat were noted by the journal. This, apparently, resulted in the failure to exchange intelligence between the two agencies that are supposed to be leading Egypt’s counterterrorism work in the Sinai Peninsula.

Intelligence Online claimed that there have been numerous accusations in recent months directed by Fawzy against the military intelligence agency, which submits reports directly to the Defence Ministry, bypassing the General Intelligence Directorate. Despite this, the military intelligence agency still receives support from President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. In December 2016, Al-Sisi expanded El-Shahat’s authority and privileges, giving him the responsibility for counterterrorism in Egyptian cities. This is a task that was once the exclusive preserve of Fawzy and his Directorate.

There are also serious tensions between Fawzy and the Egyptian Interior Minister, Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, who is largely responsible for combatting jihadist groups, according to the periodical. Abdel Ghaffar lost some of his influence after being criticised by several senior military and intelligence officials for not coming up with a new and more effective counterterrorism strategy.

Many believe that the units led by Abdel Ghaffar have been infiltrated by violent groups, despite the many operations against them. There have been a number of armed attacks carried out in Egypt by former army and police officers, who turned against the government, such as Hisham Ashmawy, a former Special Forces officer in the Egyptian army.

Read: Why is the ‘war on terrorism’ failing in Sinai?

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