Country Report on Terrorism 2015 - Chapter 2 - Egypt

Overview: In 2015, the Egyptian government continued to confront active terrorist groups, which conducted deadly attacks on government, military, and civilian targets throughout the country. During the latter half of the year, the number of reported IEDs, anti-government demonstrations, and attacks on security forces declined considerably, particularly after the Egyptian Economic Development Conference held in Sharm El-Sheikh in March 2015. However, terrorist groups have succeeded in launching several large-scale attacks in Cairo and other urban areas.

Recent attacks and social media propaganda suggest that terrorist groups are increasingly seeking to expand the geographic scope of attacks outside the restive areas of northeast Sinai. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)-Sinai Province (ISIL-SP) remained a significant threat; however, a new group calling itself “Islamic State Egypt,” distinct from ISIL Sinai, has begun to claim responsibility for terrorist attacks outside of Sinai. While these organizations receive some external financial and logistical support as a result of their affiliation with ISIL, there is no evidence of a significant presence of non-Egyptian “foreign terrorist fighters” in Egypt.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi continued to focus on counterterrorism in Egypt. In the wake of the assassination of Egyptian Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat, the Egyptian government approved a new counterterrorism law, increasing the state’s legal authorities to counter terrorism. The law provides a broad definition of terrorism, to include “any act harming national unity or social peace.”

The Egyptian Armed Forces (EAF) had limited success in combatting terrorist groups. The EAF launched a stepped-up counterterrorism campaign (known as Operation “Right of the Martyr”) against ISIL-SP on September 7. The EAF also continued to seize and destroy numerous tunnels used for smuggling between Egypt and Gaza. On November 9, security forces killed senior ISIL-SP member Ashraf Gharabli, whom security officials alleged orchestrated several large-scale terrorist attacks. The EAF also undertook actions to counter the movement of ISIL personnel in western Egypt; however, an errant Egyptian counterterrorism operation on September 14, 2015 killed 12 Mexican tourists mistaken for terrorists. The Government of Egypt has taken responsibility for the action and is compensating the victims’ families.

Egypt is a member in the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL and the Counter-ISIL Finance Group.

2015 Terrorist Incidents: Groups claiming to be affiliated with ISIL and other terrorist groups carried out numerous attacks throughout Egypt. Methods included vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs), ambushes, kidnappings, and targeted assassinations. The following list details only a small fraction of the incidents that occurred.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Egypt adopted two significant new counterterrorism laws by Presidential decree in 2015. The “Terrorist Entities Law,” adopted on February 24, establishes a mechanism for designating organizations or individuals as terrorist entities, a procedure which had previously been ad hoc. On August 15, spurred in part by the assassination of Prosecutor General Barakat, the government issued a sweeping new counterterrorism law, after several years of discussion. The government says the law consolidates existing legislation addressing terrorism-related crimes and closes legal gaps. The law expands the definition of terrorism to encompass acts committed outside of Egypt and also establishes penalties for those who travel in order to commit acts of terrorism, as well as those who support and recruit for them. 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 could lead to under-reporting on acts of terrorism.

The NSS is primarily responsible for counterterrorism functions in Egypt, but also works with other elements of the Ministry of Interior (MOI), the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, and the EAF. There was interagency cooperation and information sharing among the various counterterrorism elements within the Egyptian government in 2015.

Egypt continued to take actions to improve its border security measures. 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 within the NSS.

Egypt’s primary physical border security concerns are along the borders with Gaza and Libya. The EAF aggressively sought to destroy underground tunnels that connect Gaza and Sinai. The EAF also established and de-populated a buffer-zone along the border with Gaza, which extended to 1.5 kilometers from the border at the end of the year. Egypt increased its military presence along the Libya border; the government installed 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.

In an effort to prevent the travel of foreign terrorist fighters to areas of conflict, the government increased the number of countries for which citizens between the ages of 18 and 40 must first obtain permission prior to travel, and expanded this requirement to include women.

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. Egypt’s financial intelligence unit, the Egyptian Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Combating Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group. Egypt is not considered a regional financial center or a major hub for money laundering. The Government of Egypt has shown increased willingness to tackle money laundering, but Egypt remained vulnerable by virtue of its large informal, cash-based economy. In 2015, the Central Bank, Ministry of Finance, and other government entities strengthened efforts to promote financial inclusion by incentivizing individuals and small and medium enterprises to enter the formal financial sector. Recent measures included digitization of government payments, introduction of smartcards, and increased banking services with mini-branches and more ATMs. Sources of illegal proceeds reportedly included the smuggling of antiquities and trafficking in narcotics and/or arms. However, some organizations have used new technologies and social media to raise funds. For example, ISIL-SP solicited funds using Twitter to finance terrorist activities in Egypt, relying on anonymous prepaid value cards. Authorities also noted increased interception of illicit cross-border fund transfers by customs agents in recent years. For additional information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INSCR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.

Countering Violent Extremism: 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 has the authority to appoint and monitor the imams who lead prayers in licensed mosques, and the government pays their salaries.

Egypt’s Dar Al-Iftaa (Egypt's official body for drafting religious edicts) has increased its efforts to counter violent extremism and extremist religious rhetoric, particularly online, where it has millions of followers on social media. Dar Al-Iftaa’s countering violent extremism activities included sending scholars to remote areas of the country to engage communities considered vulnerable to violent extremist messaging; organizing international outreach and speaking tours throughout Muslim majority countries and the West; publishing books and pamphlets to undermine the alleged religious foundations of violent extremist ideology; running rehabilitation sessions for former violent extremists; and confronting violent extremists in cyber space.

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 was elected in October to a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for a two-year term, beginning in 2016. In December, Egypt was selected to preside over the UNSC Counter Terrorism Committee. It is also a member of the AU.