Borzou Daragahi reports: His killers knew who he was and where he was going.
Hisham Barakat, Egypt’s top prosecutor, was driving away from his home in an upscale quarter of Cairo’s Heliopolis District. The force of the blast that struck the highest-ranking Egyptian official assassinated in decades shattered windows for blocks around. It was a clean hit. No one else was killed and no suspect was caught.
“The sound was horrible,” recalled Mona Murad, 58, the owner of a nearby women’s clothing store that was destroyed in the blast on June 29. “I was in the street. People were telling me, ‘Your shop is burning.’”
No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but it came amid a string of operations by ISIS’s branch in Egypt. ISIS thrives in collapsed states such as Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, where it seizes control of territory and resources and attempts to set up its 21st-century version of the medieval Islamic Caliphate. But ISIS’s operations in Egypt provide a blueprint of how it can absorb a knowledgeable local jihadi group — in this case the Sinai-based Ansar Beit al Maqdis — to make its presence felt in countries that are not war zones. The local groups give ISIS and its ideology global reach. ISIS supplies Ansar Beit al Maqdis with weapons through smuggling networks and inspiration to roil a flailing state.
“Like a multinational company, the jihadis merge with ISIS, mostly because of the media, finance, logistics, and manpower it can provide,” said retired Egyptian Interior Ministry Gen. Hussein Hamoudeh. “They take the trademark of ISIS in the terror war. But it’s not just a brand. You have to take up the Daesh thinking,” he said referring to the group by its Arabic acronym.
The Egyptian jihadi group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis announced its merger with ISIS in November 2014. The killing of Barakat last summer came days before a multipronged attack on security forces that was among the first warning signs that ISIS’s Egyptian branch, called Wilayat al-Sina, or Sinai Province, was gathering momentum. In recent weeks, ISIS in Egypt has killed four soldiers in western Cairo and bombed judges in a hotel often used by foreigners and dignitaries in the northeast Sinai town of Arish. That was in addition to one of its most spectacular claimed attacks: the downing of a Russian civilian plane that killed 224 passengers and crew.
Though attacks in Egypt are down numerically and armed forces say the number of militants killed has increased, the attacks by Sinai Province have become more effective, thanks in large part to the local political knowledge of the ISIS branch and Egyptian security forces’ over-reliance on airstrikes and conventional military means to eradicate the group. The group has badly damaged the country’s economy and the reputation of its security forces. Tourism has plummeted since the downing of the jet. The Egyptian pound is trading at a 25-year low and stock market has drooped. [Continue reading…]