On Wednesday, Egyptian security sources reported that, dozens of officers joined Ansar Al-Islam during the past few months, an Al-Qaeda-linked organisation is led by former Special Forces officer Hisham Ashmawi.
In a report it published on Wednesday Reuters said that “former officers in the Egyptian Army pose an increasing security threat,” citing the ambush of Western Sahara, which targeted an Egyptian security force, killing and wounding dozens of officers in October 2017.
This attack was the first appearance of Ansar Al-Islam. According to Reuters, the group “is part of an unknown network that the Egyptian security forces accused of attempting to assassinate a former interior minister in 2013 and killing the Egyptian Attorney General in a car bomb two years later.”
Reuters quoted Intelligence officials as saying: “The secret network that Ansar Al-Islam is affiliated to represents a more difficult security challenge than the Sinai extremists. It consists of former army and police officers who use their counterterrorism training, reconnaissance and surveillance operations to attack security authorities in which they previously served.”
An Egyptian security source said that: “The elements in Western Sahara are more dangerous than those in Sinai because they have military experience. They are led by former officers who arm themselves with advanced weapons. They can easily move because of the geographical nature of the place, and easily come and flee to Libya. There are those who help them in the tribes on the borders, and they cooperate with arms traffickers to smuggle them across the desert routes.”
The security source added: “There is little information about them. Such groups cannot be eliminated overnight because they work on achieving a goal and then hide to regenerate their strength and reorganise their plans.”
An Egyptian state security officer (currently the National Security Agency) told Reuters that “they have become stronger because after every operation they settle down for a long time to include new numbers, new weapons and treat those who have been wounded. They only work on quality operations, so their members or their weapons cannot be drained.”
According to two security sources, in the past few years, Ashmawi has launched a recruitment campaign that has currently started to bear fruit in terms of the number of the members who joined.
“Hundreds of members of the security forces have been dismissed from service in the past few months because of their political or religious affiliations,” Egyptian security officials said.
According to officials, the reasons for the officers’ dismissal included the refusal to arrest protesters in a protest, or publishing anti-government posts on social media websites.