Overview: In 2016, the Egyptian government continued to confront active terrorist groups that conducted deadly attacks on government, military, and civilian targets throughout the country. While the overall number of attacks against civilian targets declined through the middle of the year, several high-profile attacks at the end of the year indicate the threat level remains high. Two ISIS affiliates, ISIL-Sinai Province (ISIL-SP) and a distinct group calling itself Islamic State Egypt (IS Egypt), continued to pose a threat. Egypt also faced anti-regime violence from groups, including Liwa al-Thawra and the Harakat Sawa’d Misr (HASM) organization; both have claimed responsibility for attacks in Egypt. The Revolutionary Punishment and Popular Resistance organizations were less active than they had been in the past. While ISIS‑affiliated groups likely received some external support and direction, there is no evidence of a significant presence of foreign terrorist fighters in Egypt.
President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi remained focused on counterterrorism efforts in Egypt. The Egyptian Armed Forces (EAF) continued the counterterrorism campaign against ISIL-SP in North Sinai (known as Operation “Right of the Martyr”) to defeat the terrorist threat and prevent the establishment of a terrorist safe haven. The Egyptian government claimed to have killed thousands of terrorists. Rights groups and international media reported allegations that the armed forces used indiscriminate force during military operations that targeted widespread terrorist activity in the northern Sinai Peninsula, resulting in killings of civilians and destruction of property. The government did not report any civilian casualties during operations in the Sinai. (There is no independent confirmation of these allegations as northern Sinai remains closed to U.S. officials, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the press.)
Further, the EAF sustained efforts to seize and destroy tunnels used for smuggling on the border between Egypt and Gaza but at a slower rate compared to last year due to the establishment of a border buffer zone, which significantly reduced tunnel activity in this area.
On August 4, ISIL-SP leader Mohamed Fereij Zeyada (aka Abu Doaa Al-Ansary) was killed in an operation south of Sheikh Zoweid. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) continue to be the largest threat facing Egyptian security forces in North Sinai. To circumvent EAF telecommunication jamming, militants developed IEDs that detonate using pressure plates and wire triggers.
Egypt is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and its Counter-ISIS Finance Group.
2016 Terrorist Incidents: Groups claiming to be affiliated with ISIS and other terrorist groups carried out attacks throughout Egypt, but particularly in the Sinai. Methods included vehicle‑borne improvised explosive devices, ambushes, kidnappings, and targeted assassinations. The following list is illustrative and details only a fraction of the incidents that occurred.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Egypt continued to implement two significant counterterrorism laws issued by Presidential decree in 2015 and ratified by Parliament in 2016: the “Terrorist Entities Law,” which established a mechanism for designating organizations or individuals as terrorist entities; and a sweeping new counterterrorism law that significantly increased the penalties for terrorism-related crimes. The law also imposes a steep fine, equal to many times the average annual salary of most local journalists, for publishing “false news” that contradicts official government reports on terrorism, which some civil society organizations worry could be used to stifle dissent and lead to under-reporting on acts of terrorism.
In November 2016, the Legislative and Legal Affairs committee of the Parliament planned to discuss an amendment to Egypt’s criminal procedures law that would expedite judicial appeals procedures to ensure swift justice in terrorism-related cases; however, these planned changes were delayed. In the wake of the December attack against El-Botroseya Coptic church, the Egyptian government planned to convene a major conference to discuss amendments to the criminal procedures law, including initiatives to allow the Cassation Court to consider cases as soon as they are appealed and issue verdicts quickly instead of referring them for retrial in criminal courts. Several politicians have also called for Parliament to refer all terrorism cases to military courts.
The National Security Sector, a division of the Ministry of Interior (MOI), is primarily responsible for counterterrorism functions in the Nile Valley, but also works with other elements of the MOI, the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, and the EAF. There was limited interagency cooperation and information sharing among the various counterterrorism elements within the Egyptian government in 2016.
Egypt continued to take actions to improve its border security. At border crossings and airports, Egyptian authorities checked for the presence of known security features within travel documents, such as micro-printing, UV features, and digital schemes. They also scanned and cross-referenced documents with criminal databases that alert them when there is derogatory information present. Egypt maintains a terrorist watchlist with a simple listing provided to Egyptian immigration officials at the ports of entry and detailed information maintained by the security services. In response to the downing of Metrojet flight 9268 in October 2015, the United States issued enhanced screening requirements for cargo flying from or through Egypt to the United States. These restrictions remained in place during 2016. Egypt bolstered security procedures and updated screening equipment at all of its international airports, including cargo screening at Cairo International Airport.
Egypt’s most significant physical border security concerns were along the borders with Gaza and Libya, although smuggling was also a problem along the border with Sudan. The EAF aggressively sought to destroy underground tunnels that connect Gaza and Sinai. The EAF continued to maintain the de-populated buffer-zone along the border with Gaza, which extends to 1.5 kilometers from the border. Egypt maintained an increased military presence along the Libya border; the government used cargo and passenger vehicle x-ray scanning devices at the Libyan border crossing to inspect traffic traveling both into and out of Egypt. The EAF was also working to procure a suite of mobile surveillance technologies to improve its situational awareness along the border with Libya.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Egypt is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body and also a member of the Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group. Egypt’s Financial Intelligence Unit, the Egyptian Money Laundering and Terrorist financing Combating Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units. The Government of Egypt has shown increased willingness to improve its anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism legal framework. During 2015, Egypt enacted a number of laws to strengthen measures to counter terrorist financing to align with international standards and to enhance its legal framework to identify terrorists and terrorist organizations.
Egypt enacted a criminalization system for terrorist financing, in accordance with international standards, and has comprehensive procedures to implement financial sanctions pursuant to the UN Security Council (UNSC) ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime. Egypt remains vulnerable to terrorist financing, however, because of the large informal cash-based economy, undocumented small scale financial transactions, an estimated 90 percent of the population that does not have formal bank accounts, and the proximity to several terrorist organizations such as ISIL-Sinai. The Central Bank of Egypt and the Federation of Egyptian Banks have aimed to promote financial inclusion by incentivizing individuals and small and medium size enterprises to enter the formal financial sector. Additionally, Egypt enacted measures including digitization of government payments, introduction of smartcards, and increased banking services with mini‑branches, more ATMs, and mobile phone applications. Despite legislative efforts, smuggling of antiquities and narcotics remained a concern, and exploitation of banking technologies and social media for terrorism funding also remained an issue. For example, ISIL‑SP solicited funds using Twitter to finance terrorist activities in Egypt, relying on anonymous prepaid value cards.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: Egypt’s Dar Al-Iftaa, an official body that issues religious edicts, has taken the lead in establishing a General Secretariat for Fatwa Authorities Worldwide to counter violent extremist religious messaging via religious channels. Dar Al-Iftaa sends scholars to engage communities considered vulnerable to violent messaging; trains new muftis; organizes international outreach and speaking tours throughout Muslim majority countries and the West; publishes books and pamphlets to challenge the alleged religious foundations of violent extremist ideology; runs rehabilitation sessions for former violent extremists; and confronts violent extremists in cyber space.
Al-Azhar University is revising its pre-university curricula by removing material that could be misinterpreted to promote violent extremism. Al-Azhar’s online observatory monitors, reports on, and responds to extremist messaging and fatwas on the internet.
The Ministry of Islamic Endowments (Awqaf) is legally responsible for issuing guidance to which all imams throughout Egypt are required to adhere, including weekly instructions on a provided theme that aims to prevent extremist language in sermons. The Ministry is also required to license all mosques in Egypt; however, many continued to operate without licenses. The government appoints and monitors the imams who lead prayers in licensed mosques, and the government pays their salaries.
International and Regional Cooperation: Egypt continued to participate in the Global Counterterrorism Forum, co-chairing (along with the United States) the Criminal Justice and Rule of Law Working Group. Egypt holds a non-permanent seat on the UNSC through the end of 2017, and presides over the UNSC Counter-Terrorism Committee. It is also a member of the African Union.