Egypt’s Internal Islamist Threat: Who are the Suspects in the Madinat Nasr Cell?

Andrew McGregor

November 30, 2012

Amidst new political turmoil in Egypt, the investigation continues into the extent of the radical Islamist network disrupted by an October 24 police raid on the militants’ armory in the Cairo suburb of Madinat Nasr. [1] A number of those arrested during the Madinat Nasr raid or as a result of subsequent investigations into the cell are experienced jihadists, many with connections to Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), which formally merged with al-Qaeda in 2001. Others possess military experience and may have been prepared to turn their knowledge of arms and tactics against the post-revolutionary Egyptian state, though some of the detainees claim the Madinat Nasr cell was directed primarily at running Libyan arms to Islamist groups fighting the Assad regime in Syria.

Madinat al-NasrFire that followed a bomb explosion during the raid on a Madinat Nasr building.

Here, then, is a short look at the profiles of some of the major figures arrested or being sought in connection with the raid on the Madinat Nasr cell:

Shaykh Adil Awad Shahtu: A former leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Shahtu was arrested on charges of establishing and financing the Madinat Nasr cell (Dar al-Hayat, October 31, 2012). Shahtu, a leading member of EIJ, was imprisoned in Egypt in 1991 following his return from three years in Afghanistan and was not released until March, 2011 after the fall of Hosni Mubarak. Shahtu was one of the leaders of the September 11 protest at the U.S. embassy in Cairo. The Interior Ministry reported that Shahtu was arrested while trying to slip into Libya with a large quantity of cash in different currencies (al-Hayat, November 1, 2012).

Shahtu is a vocal opponent of the democracy that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt: “I oppose democracy because it is not the faith of the Muslims, but the faith of the Jews and Christians. Simply put, democracy means the rule of the people itself over itself… According to Islam, it is forbidden for people to rule and to legislate laws, as Allah alone is ruler.” In the shaykh’s elitist interpretation of Islamic rule, “commoners, such as workers and fellahin [Egypt’s traditional peasant class]” would be barred from participating in the Shura (consultative council) that advises the ruler. Shahtu has warned that “if the [Coptic] Christians make problems for the Muslims, I will exterminate you,” as well as insisting on a shutdown of the tourism industry and a ban on all the arts (Roz Al-Yousef (Egypt), August 13, 2011).

Since his arrest, Shahtu has maintained the Madinat Nasr cell was seeking only to support the revolution in Syria: “We disagree with the Muslim Brotherhood, but we do not consider its members as infidels. We were not targeting any Egyptian or Egyptian installations” (al-Hayat, November 4).

Wa’il Abd-al-Rahman – Identified as the “prime suspect” in the Madinat Nasr cell and described as a takfiri (a Muslim who accuses other Muslims of apostasy) and former member of the EIJ, al-Rahman was reported to have been arrested two months earlier and sentenced to jail on charges of seeking to overthrow the regime “and of judging the ruler [al-Mursi] as an infidel.” Police claim to have found gunpowder and other materials for manufacturing explosives in his house (al-Hayat, October 27, 2012; al-Tahrir [Cairo], October 31, 2012).

Muhammad Jamal al-Kashif (a.k.a. Abu-Ahmad) – A former EIJ leader released after the revolution, al-Kashif’s present location is unknown. Egyptian security services report that al-Kashif has been an active al-Qaeda operative in Yemen and Libya and had been given orders by Dr. al-Zawahiri to lead terrorist operations in Egypt and Libya (al-Dustur [Cairo], October 28, 2012; al-Hayat, October 27, 2012).

Karim Isam Ahmad Azzazi – Forty-years-old, Karim Isam reportedly blew himself up during the raid (al-Hayat, October 31, 2012). According to the autopsy report, the beardless suspect died of burns and showed no trace of bullets (al-Tahrir [Cairo], October 31, 2012). It is Karim Isam who allegedly rented the ground floor of a 15-storey property in Madinat Nasr and undertook a number of renovations, including the installation of an iron door and the creation of a private parking area from which visitors to the site could enter the building unobserved (al-Wafd [Cairo], October 28, 2012).

Karim Ahmad al-Badawi (a.k.a. Abu Hazim) – A 53-year-old Egyptian from Cairo Governorate who is reported to have died during the raid, possibly as a result of being shot by police while fleeing (al-Akhbar, October 26, 2012). The exact circumstances of his fate remain unclear, largely due to considerable confusion in the local media between Karim Ahmad al-Badawi and Karim Isam Ahmad Azzazi (see above).

Rami Ahmad Muhammad al-Mallah – A former radar specialist and captain in the Egyptian Army before resigning a short time ago following his decision to express his Islamist allegiance by growing a beard. An alleged leader of the Madinat Nasr cell, al-Mallah was arrested in downtown Cairo a day after the Madinat Nasr raid while trying to obtain a tourist visa to Turkey as part of a scheme to sneak into Syria (al-Hayat, October 28, 2012; November 3, 2012).

Muhamad Sa’id Merghani – The Tunisian suspect is believed to be an expert in the use of explosives and is thought to have taken part in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi (al-Jumhariyah [Cairo], October 29, 2012; al-Shuruq al-Jadid [Cairo], October 31, 2012). During his interrogation, Muhammad Sa’id admitted to being a member of the Tunisian Muslim Brotherhood and claimed that he was trying to make his way to Syria to join the insurgency (al-Hayat, November 4, 2012).  Egypt’s security services have asked for Tunisian assistance in investigating this aspect of the case.

Tarik Abu al-Azm – A former Egyptian Army officer who has faced criminal charges before, al-Azm claims he was only friends with the cell leader and has no interest in politics.

Nasr Hani Hasan Rashid – Picked up two weeks after the raid, Nasr Hani is alleged to have returned from Libya at the beginning of November to carry out terrorist operations after receiving military training from al-Qaeda elements in Libya (al-Shuruq al-Jadid [Cairo], November 7, 2012).

Other suspected cell members either detained in the raid or on the run include Tarik Yahya Hulayl, Muhammad Salman Sulayman, Nabil Abd al-Moneim and Amr al-Rifa’i Surur.

Information available on the suspects so far suggests the growth of an Islamist network connecting militants from Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria. As Egypt enters a new political and constitutional crisis following the assumption of extraordinary powers by President Muhammad al-Mursi there will be new opportunities for Egypt’s Salafi-Jihadi community to press its agenda through a return to the armed conflict that raged between Islamists and Egyptian authorities in the 1990s.


1. See Andrew McGregor, “The Face of Egypt’s Next Revolution: The Madinat Nasr Cell,” Jamestown Foundation Hot Issue, November 20, 2012,[tt_news]=40137&cHash=bc3b95312dc7c4911c1727f4b929e2fd

This article was originally published in the Jamestown Foundation Militant Leadership Monitor

International Community Cools to Intervention as Islamists Defeat Tuareg in Northern Mali

Andrew McGregor

November 30, 2012

With ECOWAS and the African Union now in agreement over the formation of a force of 3,300 African peacekeepers drawn from both ECOWAS and non-ECOWAS nations, many nations whose support would be required for the success of such an option have recently cooled to this plan, while others, such as Algeria, continue to maintain a reserved position. An apparent victory by one of the Islamist factions occupying northern Mali over a well-armed Tuareg rebel militia that has offered to join counter-terrorist operations has not inspired confidence in the ultimate success of the under-size AU force. [1]

MNLA 3MNLA on the Move (Andy Morgan)

Though January 2013 had long been suggested as the starting date of an international military intervention, UN Special Envoy for the Sahel Region, former Italian premier Romano Prodi, said during a visit to Rabat that it would be September, 2013 before an intervention could begin (AFP, November 20, 2012). With the intervention receding into the distant future, many refugees from the fighting in northern Mali are returning to their homes, unhappy with Islamist rule but unwilling to wait nearly a year or more for assistance in driving the Islamists out of the region.

Nigeria’s decision to pledge only 600 troops to the projected force of 3300 would seem to imperil a project that was designed to be built around a larger Nigerian core (Daily Trust, [Lagos], November 22, 2012). Chad, a non-ECOWAS country, has apparently agreed to join the intervention force, but the composition of the rest of the force has yet to be revealed (L’Indépendant [Bamako], November 12, 2012). The EU has dampened earlier expectations that European troops might supplement African forces in the mission. According to EU Counterterrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove: “The European Council held on 18 and 19 October came out in favor of a military mission to train the Malian Army. There is no question of European intervention as such. It is up to Mali to win the north back” (Le Monde, November 12, 2012).

Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci reminded concerned parties that: “Algeria is not convinced that an exclusively military solution would bring peace and unity to Mali. Our wish is to convince our partners that the military path must be oriented toward the fight against terrorism. It must be accompanied by a political process in the form of a dialogue between the Malian protagonists” (Jeune Afrique, November 14, 2012). In neighboring Mauritania, national assembly president Messaoud Ould Boulkheir warned of the fallout from an intervention: “[Mali] is like a volcano about to erupt… If this volcano awakens, it will dump incandescent ashes over its neighbors” (AFP, November 12, 2012). A November 14 communiqué from the Tunisian president’s office warned against an “uncalculated military intervention in Mali” that could turn the Maghreb into a “hotbed of tension” and threaten the security of the Maghreb states (Tunisian Press Agency, November 15, 2012).

Libya delivered its opinion on a military intervention in Mali via Mahfouth Rahim, director in charge of African affairs at the Libyan Foreign Ministry: “We Libyans believe that we should not focus on military solutions at the moment to avert escalation which might lead us to what happened in Afghanistan… The military solution would exacerbate the crisis as the Tuareg rebels and other Islamist groups would be forced to seek refuge in other countries such as Libya” (PANA Online [Dakar], November 14, 2012).

Former Malian prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (1994-2000, parliamentary speaker, 2002-2007) is among those who have urged caution, noting that the Malian army needs time to rebuild to counter tactics likely to be used by the Islamist militants: “The population will be used as a human shield. Hence the need for extreme care in planning and skill in implementing an intervention. Military logistics and intelligence will be crucial with a view to knowing exactly whom we are dealing with, before saying: “Let’s go in, let’s go in!” (Le Monde, November 4, 2012).

In the north, meanwhile, the defeat of the secular Tuareg rebel Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA) by Islamist forces demonstrated the latter’s military strength and the readiness of the Islamist groups to cooperate in the field. During what has been described as a MNLA attempt to retake Gao, fighting broke out with forces belonging to the Islamist Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) near Asango on November 16. Asongo is 120 miles west of Menaka, where the MNLA was attempting to create a base for counterterrorist operations (Jeune Afrique, November 18, 2012; AFP, November 20, 2012). Locals suggested that many of those resisting the MUJWA attack in Asongo were not MNLA members, including local Tuareg political leader, Alwabegat ag Slakatou and six of his men who were reported among the dead (AFP, November 20, 2012).

AQIM was reported to have sent some 300 reinforcements to Gao from Timbuktu, roughly 185 miles to the west (AFP, November 17; Jeune Afrique, November 18, 2012). The reinforcements were said to belong to AQIM’s Katibat al-Mulathamin (Veiled Brigade) and the Katibat Osama bin Laden, led by Abu Walid Sahrawi.

Though MNLA spokesmen described only light casualties in the clash and described the action as “an initial success,” reports from the area and Malian security sources described dozens killed in “a real bloodbath” (Tout sur l’Algérie, November 17; AFP, November 20, 2012). Both sides presented casualty figures that were likely inflated, with the MNLA claiming 65 AQIM and MUJWA fighters killed, while MUJWA announced the death of over 100 members of the MNLA (AFP, November 20, 2012). The MNLA’s chief-of-staff, Machkanani ag Balla, suffered a serious wound while leading his men in the fight. MUJWA spokesman Walid Abu Sahrawi said the movement was dedicated to destroying the MNLA: “In Azawad, we are going to pursue the MNLA wherever they may still be found. We control the situation” (Jeune Afrique, November 18, 2012). Northern Mali’s three northern provinces are now conveniently divided between the three Islamist movements – Gao in MUJWA, Timbuktu in AQIM and Ansar al-Din in Kidal. The MNLA was expelled from Gao in June and now operates in rural areas only.

According to MNLA spokesman Hama ag Sid Ahmed, MUJWA forces setting up new bases on the outskirts of Gao have been joined by AQIM commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar (who appears to be at odds lately with the rest of the AQIM leadership – see Terrorism Monitor Brief, November 15, 2012) and various Pakistanis, Egyptians and Moroccans (Tout sur l’Algérie, November 16, 2012).

A spokesman for the Islamist Tuareg group Ansar al-Din claimed that movement leader Iyad ag Ghali had tried to prevent the fighting between MUJWA and the MNLA and remained on the sidelines when the conflict began. In Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré is now holding joint talks with Ansar al-Din and the MNLA, rather than meet the two rebel Tuareg groups separately, as had been the case so far (AFP, November 16, 2012). According to an Ansar al-Din spokesman, if talks go the right way, “one can foresee ways and means in which one can get rid of terrorism, drug-trafficking and foreign groups” (AFP, November 14, 2012; PANA Online [Dakar], November 18, 2012).


1. The intervention force briefly took the name “Mission de la CEDEAO [Communauté Economique des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest] au Mali” (MICENA – ECOWAS Mission in Mali).before expanding its base by adopting the new name “Mission Internationale de Soutien au Mali” (MISMA – International Support Mission to Mali).

This article was originally published in the Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor

Tunisian President Warns of Growing Strength of Salafist Jihadi Movement

Andrew McGregor

November 30, 2012

Like Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Tunisia’s Islamist-dominated government is facing often violent demands for the immediate imposition of an Islamic state from radical Salafist groups, leading Tunisia’s secularist president to warn of the threat posed by Salafi-Jihadists to that nation’s democratic evolution.

Moncef MarzoukiPresident Moncef Marzouki (Business News)

Moncef Marzouki became the interim president of Tunisia after his election by the new Constituent Assembly in December, 2011. Marzouki was a long time dissident during the regime of Zine al-Abdin bin Ali, suffering imprisonment and an extended exile in France. Marzouki’s Congress for the Republic political party was one of two secularist parties that joined the larger Islamist Ennadha Party to form a new post-revolutionary coalition government. While Ennadha member Hamadi Jebali assumed the greatest power as Prime Minister, the president remains in charge of defense issues and foreign policy, though he must consult with the prime minister on both portfolios (Reuters, December 13, 2011).

According to the Tunisian president, those Arab Islamists who accepted the democratic process following the Arab Spring revolutions are finding themselves increasingly at odds with more extreme Islamist factions that regard acceptance of democracy as treason, as well as with the broader population that has looked to moderate Islamists for rapid reforms and improvements in their living conditions:

“Now the Islamists are finding out that they have fallen into the trap of democracy because they have heavy responsibilities in the economy and regarding living conditions. The people now want solutions to the problems of water, food, security etc. The people will judge them [the Islamists] on the basis of performance. I can say with full frankness now that if Ennahda went to the elections today it would perhaps be surprised by a violent reaction from the people because they did not do what was expected of them” (al-Hayat, November 4, 2012).

Marzouki has previously suggested that the center of jihad was shifting from the Afghanistan-Paskistan region to the Arab Maghreb (North Africa west of Egypt) after finding a foothold in northern Mali. Fear of becoming embroiled in the international “war on terrorism” has produced a policy of dialogue with religious extremists, “but these policies have not produced a result until now and, on the contrary, we have seen what happened” (al-Hayat, October 4, 2012).

Since the revolution, Tunisia’s new Islamist government has been challenged by mass protests and a series of attacks by radical Salafists, including the September 14 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis led by veteran jihadist Abu Iyad al-Tunisi. Four of the attackers were killed by security forces. In late October, Salafist militants attacked two National Guard posts in the Tunis suburb of Manouba after a Salafist was charged with assaulting the head of the local public security brigade. Shortly afterwards Khalid Karaoui, imam of the Ennour Mosque in Manouba, died of wounds incurred in the attack (al-Jazeera, October 31, 2012; AFP, November 1, 2012). There have even been direct clashes in the streets between Salafists and supporters of Ennadha with sometimes fatal results (AFP, November 5, 2012). Ennadha is also facing pressure from its youth wing, which is demanding quicker reforms and the prosecution of former regime members accused of corruption and torture.

Many of the leaders of these strikes are veterans of the Salafi-Jihadist Groupe Combattant Tunisien (GCT), founded in 2000 by Abu Iyad al-Tunisi (a.k.a. Sayfallah bin Hussein) and Tarik bin Habib Maaroufi, who returned to Tunisia last spring after serving time in Belgium on terrorism-related charges (Tunisia Live, April 1; for Abu Iyad, see Militant Leadership Monitor, May 1, 2012). Maaroufi is best known for his role in planning the assassination of Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Mahsoud in Afghanistan in 2001.

Fifty-eight of those arrested in the clashes at the U.S. embassy went on a hunger strike in prison in protest of the conditions under which they are held and to bring attention to what the hunger-strikers describe as government persecution of the Salafist movement. Two prisoners have already died, including Muhammad Bakhti, a colleague of Abu Iyad and a senior Tunisian Salafi-Jihadist who was sentenced to 12 years in jail after clashes between the army and Salafists near Tunis in 2007. Bakhti was released in the amnesty that followed the revolution (AFP, November 17, 2012).

The bloody demonstration at the U.S. embassy was led by Abu Iyad al-Tunisi (a.k.a. Sayfallah bin Hussein). A one-time follower of radical Jordanian cleric Abu Qatada, Abu Iyad was a founder of the GCT and is the current leader of the Salafi-Jihadist group, Ansar al-Shari’a in Tunisia (AST) (Business News [Tunis], September 17, 2012). Abu Iyad left Tunisia in 1991 under pressure from the Ben Ali regime. He attempted to obtain political asylum but his anti-British sermons did little to endear him to his hosts, who eventually sent him packing. Abu Iyad then joined the battle against American forces in Afghanistan before his arrest in Turkey in 2003 and subsequent extradition to Tunisia, where he was sentenced under the anti-terrorism act to 58 years in prison, where he remained until his release under the post-revolution amnesty in 2011 (Business News [Tunis], November 17, 2012). Abu Iyad has since stated his belief that it is the U.S. embassy that rules the country “and pulls the strings of the party in power” (Business News [Tunis], September 17, 2012).

Police efforts to detain Abu Iyad after the incident appear to have been half-hearted, missing him at home, at a funeral he attended the next day, and most revealingly during an appearance at a Tunis mosque that had been widely announced on social networking sites earlier that day (Business News [Tunis], September 17, 2012).

Ennadha has been criticized by the opposition for not taking a firmer line with Tunisia’s Salafists, but party leader Rached Ghannouchi is wary of alienating the community, possibly pushing it towards even greater violence: “We need to avoid the rhetoric of the enemy within. We have the experience of Ben Ali, who detained tens of thousands of Ennahda members and demonized the party. Then the regime fell, and now Ennahda is in power. If we want to demonize the Salafists, they are the ones that will be in power in 10-15 years’ time. This is why we talk to them as citizens, not as enemies” (Le Monde, October 18, 2012).

In remarks that mirror the difficulties Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is having with the Egyptian Salafist community, Gannouchi has elsewhere warned that the Salafis’ demonstrations and violence result in the depiction of Tunisia as a “center for terrorism and extremism” and a “Salafi State, even though they are a minority within a minority. I do not think they follow Ennadha. Actually they might become the biggest enemies of Ennadha” (al-Hayat, October 4, 2012).

In the post-revolutionary period, not only has the disparate coalition of secularists, leftists and Islamists that deposed the Ben Ali regime returned to its component (and rival) parts, but almost each political party represented in the new parliament, including Ennadha, has suffered splits and defections, hampering Tunisia’s political transition and weakening its response to internal threats (al-Jazeera, October 23, 2012). In a response to these growing tensions, a state of emergency has been imposed on a month-by-month basis since July, but on October 31, President Marzouki imposed a three-month extension of the state of emergency, reflecting a deteriorating security situation (Tunis Afrique Presse, October 31, 2012).

This article first appeared in the November 30, 2012 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

The Return of War to Africa’s Great Lakes Region: Can the Revolutionary Army of the Congo be Contained?

Andrew McGregor

November 30, 2012

The seizure last week by mutinous Congolese soldiers of the city of Goma in the midst of the mineral rich Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has brought the deaths of hundreds of people and displaced hundreds of thousands of others. The ineffective response of the DRC military and the UN troops intended to support it has nourished fears that the mutineers might continue their march through the Congo, plunging the war-wracked state into yet another round of uncontrollable violence.

Great Lakes AfricaNow calling itself the Revolutionary Army of the Congo (RAC), the group of mutineers formerly known as M23 had pledged to march on the DRC capital of Kinshasha if DRC president Joseph Kabila failed to agree to discuss their demands, which include calls for national talks to be hosted by President Kabila, the release of political prisoners (including leading opposition politician Etienne Tshisekedi), the dissolution of the national electoral commission (believed by the ARC to have arranged Kabila’s re-election in 2011) and the investigation of military corruption (New Vision [Kampala], November 27, 2012).

The RAC/M23 movement has its origins in the largely Tutsi Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP), an ethnic-defense militia based in the DRC province of Nord-Kivu. [1] The movement was believed to have been sponsored by Rwanda as a proxy force for use against the Kivu-based Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu militia determined to finish the genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus that ravaged Rwanda in 1994. The FDLR appears to have stepped up cross-border operations into Rwanda in recent days and has renewed clashes with RAC/M23 (AP, November 27, 2012). The ICC issued a warrant in July for the arrest of FDLR commander Sylvestre Mudacumura, a Rwandan Hutu facing nine counts of war crimes.

General Bosco “The Terminator” Ntaganda, a Rwandan Tutsi wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes committed while both a rebel and an officer in the DRC national army, took control of the CNDP in 2009. [2] The peace agreement that followed in that same year resulted in the integration of most of the CNDP into the DRC army, known as the Forces armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC).  Colonel Ntaganda led a mutiny of up to 600 soldiers in Nord-Kivu in March after orders came for the ex-CNDP troops to be redeployed from Kivu, where ex-members of the CNDP had made a comfortable living by exploiting and taxing the numerous mining operations in the area. The Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23) was named for the March 23, 2009 peace agreement that movement leaders claim Kinshasha failed to honor (East African [Nairobi], July 16, 2012).

Colonel Ntaganda, who has always denied being the M23 commander despite abundant evidence to the contrary, has kept a low profile since April, allowing the movement’s leadership to pass into the hands of its official commander, Colonel Sultani Makenga. Makenga (now a RAC brigadier) is a former CNDP commander who is believed to have played a major role in massacres carried out in the region in 2007 and 2008. Colonel Makenga denies Ntaganda is being harbored by the RAC (East African [Nairobi], October 22, 2012). At the time of his desertion from FARDC in May, Colonel Makenga was the second-in-command of DRC operations against the Hutu FDLR. Makenga was designated for asset seizure by the U.S. Treasury Department on November 13 in relation to his alleged use of child soldiers and being a recipient of arms and material related to military activities in the DRC.

Under a deal forged by Uganda, a RAC spokesman announced on November 29 that the movement would hand over the town of Sake to UN forces on November 30, to be followed by a withdrawal from Goma to a point 12 miles north of the city, though 100 RAC fighters would be allowed to remain at the Goma airport (AFP, November 29, 2012). In return, Kinshasha has agreed to negotiate with the rebels and hear their grievances, once they have retreated to 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the city.

The Assault on Goma

A three-month truce was shattered on November 15 as RAC and Congolese forces clashed at daybreak, both sides claiming later to have acted in self-defense. Tanks belonging to the UN’s Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies en République Démocratique du Congo (MONUSCO) rolled into defensive positions outside Goma, ready to support the defense of the city of one million people close to the Rwandan border. On November 18, UN attack helicopters, provided by the Ukraine and operated by Ukrainian pilots ran ten strike missions against the rebels outside Goma (AFP, November 18, 2012). The night before the assault on Goma, Rwandan General Joseph Nzabamwita reported that the DRC army had bombarded the Rwandan border region with T-55 tank shells, mortars and anti-aircraft missiles. A FARDC spokesman said an investigation was under way but countered that Rwanda had also fired mortars across the border (AFP, November 19, 2012).

RACongoPatrol of the Revolutionary Army of the Congo near Goma

RAC forces continued to advance and took the city in the morning of November 20 after a few hours of light resistance from FARDC and UN forces based in Goma. With the RAC on the outskirts of Goma, DRC forces engaged in some tough talk, with the local Republican Guard commander promising to “die with the population” rather than leave them to the hands of the rebels (Agence Congolaise de Presse, November 19, 2012). Residents of Goma reported that the Republican Guard (which reports to the president directly rather than to FARDC command) did offer some resistance to the insurgents while FARDC troops busied themselves with looting before abandoning the city (AFP, November 19, 2012). A FARDC spokesman claimed later that DRC armor came under fire from Rwandan artillery every time they tried to shell RAC positions, but a Rwandan spokesman replied: “Every time [FARDC] gets beaten on the ground, they use the RDF [Rwandan Defense Force] as an excuse” (AFP, November 17, 2012). Many of the Congolese troops shed their uniforms before fleeing into the bush. The precipitate departure of Congolese forces from Goma appears to have provided the ARC with an arms windfall of as much as 1,000 tons of arms and ammunition, including heavy artillery (AP, November 27, 2012).

After the attack, the DRC government reported that the rebels had been reinforced by 4,000 Rwandan troops and had been provided with night-vision goggles that gave them an advantage in the fighting (Agence Congolaise de Presse, November 19, 2012; November 20, 2012). The DRC had earlier claimed to have found bodies wearing Rwandan Army uniforms after clashes with the RAC on November 15, but a Rwandan army spokesman retorted: This an old propaganda gimmick; it’s easy to try to draw Rwanda into this mess” (AFP, November 15, 2012; November 18, 2012, Jeune Afrique, November 17, 2012).

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius expressed his disappointment with the performance of the UN’s 1,500 man peacekeeping force in Goma: “MONUSCO’s mandate should be revised. MONUSCO was not in a situation where it could prevent what happened when faced with a few hundred men” (AFP, November 20, 2012). The UN has stated its Goma contingent, part of a force of 6,700 UN troops in Nord-Kivu, would remain in Goma, though their role in the current situation remains undefined.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous defended the MONUSCO contingent in Goma, pointing out that their mandate called for support of FARDC troops, but given the fact that government forces fled from Goma shortly after fighting began this was “hardly achievable… and clearly it is not the role – not the mandate of MONUSCO – to directly hit the armed groups…” (Xinhua, November 21, 2012).

MONUSCO’s ineffective defense of Goma sparked large demonstrations in several cities, including Kisangani, where UN vehicles were set on fire and stones thrown at UN offices. Protesters also targeted the government and the ARC for their roles in the continuing violence (Agence Congolaise de Presse, November 21, 2012; November 22, 2012).

After a “strategic withdrawal” from the Goma area, FARDC troops are now based around the town of Minova, 36 miles from Goma. On November 22, FARDC launched an offensive to retake the town of Sake, west of Goma. The Goma Airport remains under the control of UN forces.

Regional Involvement in the Crisis – Rwanda

A UN report on foreign military involvement in the Kivu region was leaked earlier this month, creating a diplomatic crisis in the Great Lakes region. Much of the report appeared to confirm the DRC’s claims that neighboring Rwanda and Uganda were providing arms, intelligence and logistical support to RAC/M23. The DRC is now demanding that Rwanda and Uganda be targeted by U.S. and UN sanctions for its support of RAC (AFP, November 18, 2012). Some of the fallout was internal, however; General Gabriel Amisi Kumba, the chief of DRC land forces, was dismissed by President Kabila on November 22 after having been accused in the report of trafficking arms to various militant groups, including suspected RAC allies in the local Maï-Maï and anti-Hutu Raia Mutomboki groups ( [Kinshasha], November 23, 2012; AFP, November 22, 2012).

Based partly on MONUSCO radio intercepts, Rwanda was identified in the report as playing a major role in creating and backing RAC/M23, with Minister of Defense General James Kabarebe accused of directing the movement’s activities with the assistance of Army chief-of-staff Lieutenant General Charles Kayonga and Lieutenant General Jacques Nziza. Rwandan troops fought in the Congo during the rebellion against President Mobutu Sese Seko in 1996-1998 and again from 1998 to 2003. Rwandan troops returned to the DRC with permission in 2009 to pursue the Hutu FDLR militia.

Rwanda’s activities in the border region have led to the cancelling of an important training agreement with the Belgian military; according to Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders: “We will not train soldiers who could contribute to the destabilization [of the Congo]” (Radio Télévision Belge Francophone, November 11, 2012). The DRC, seeing an opportunity, dispatched Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo to Brussels to urge greater military assistance and training from the Belgians.

Regional Involvement in the Crisis – Uganda

Uganda, which President Kabila describes as “the bad boy” of the region, was also identified as a major backer of RAC/M23, much to the outrage of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (Sunday Monitor [Kampala], October 29, 2012). Ugandan police chief Lieutenant General Kale Kayihura and the President’s brother, General Salim Saleh, were singled out in the UN report for providing  military assistance and troops to RAC/M23 (Daily Monitor [Kampala], November 5, 2012).

Uganda has intervened in the DRC before, particularly in 1996-1998, when Ugandan troops backed Laurent Kabila’s efforts to depose President Mobutu Sese Seko and again in 1998-2003 during a vast civil war that dragged in many other African countries. Ugandan generals, some related to President Museveni, made enormous profits by pillaging the eastern Congo’s mineral industry.

Ugandan premier Amama Mbabazi described the leaked report as the work of “UN amateurs” and asked:

Why should we continue involving Uganda where the only reward we get is malignment? Why should the children of Ugandans die and we get malignment as a reward? Why should we invite retaliation by [Somalia’s] al-Shabaab by standing with the people of Somalia, only to get malignment by the UN system? (Daily Monitor [Kampala], November 2, 2012).

After the release of the UN report, Uganda announced it was considering three options before taking action:

  • Withdrawing from regional peacekeeping operations in Somalia (where they form the core of the African Union Mission in Somalia – AMISOM)  and the Central African Republic
  • Continuing with these operations despite the UN report
  • Demanding a withdrawal of the allegations contained in the UN report before allowing Ugandan peacekeeping operations to continue (Daily Monitor [Uganda], November 26, 2012).

After Uganda made its threat to abandon UN-backed peacekeeping operations in Somalia, UN officials quickly began to back away from the report, saying that the views expressed therein “did not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations” (Africa Review [Nairobi], November 5, 2012).

During an interview with a local newspaper, Ugandan defense minister Dr. Crispus Kiyonga admitted that Ugandan authorities had conducted secret meetings with RAC/M23 to urge them to stop fighting and suggested that these meetings might have been misinterpreted as support for the group (Daily Monitor [Kampala], November 12, 2012).

Pursuit of the largely moribund Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group is often cited by the government as the reason for its cross-border military operations in the eastern DRC. Museveni claims that a recent series of assassinations of prominent Muslim clerics in Uganda is the work of ADF operatives based in the DRC (Observer [Kampala], September 17; for the ADF, see Terrorism Monitor, December 20, 2007). In an interview with Ugandan journalists, Kabila said joint DRC-Ugandan operations against elements of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) based in the Congo had been successful and that further joint operations against Ugandan rebels of the ADF based in the Kivu region would have followed if they hadn’t been pre-empted by the new outbreak of violence in the region (Sunday Monitor [Kampala], October 29, 2012).

As leader of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), President Museveni is officially leading regional efforts to quell the fighting in Kivu and appears to have some influence over RAC/M23. [3] Despite the claims that Uganda is arming and facilitating the RAC/M23 rebellion, Uganda says it still has the “moral authority” to continue as a mediator in the conflict (IRIN [Nairobi], November 23, 2012). The ICGLR has proposed forming a “neutral” international force of 4,000 troops under AU and UN supervision to eliminate armed groups in the eastern DRC, but it will be difficult to find solid commitments of trained and capable troops for this force. The neutral force is intended to include 4,000 troops from Angola, Tanzania, Kenya and the DRC, although only Tanzania has committed a small force of 500 men in the three months that have passed since the creation of the force was announced, and funding remains unconfirmed. It was intended to deploy the force by December, but this now appears unlikely (Daily Monitor [Kampala], November 1, 2012). DRC Prime Minister Ponyo has stated his preference for a “reinvigorated” MONUSCO as a “credible and realistic alternative” to the proposed “neutral international force” (Agence Congolaise de Presse, October 26, 2012).  President Museveni, who favors the new force, has said that what is required is a “new hybrid of troops who are ideologically committed and loyal” (Observer [Kampala], September 17, 2012).


The struggle for the wealth of Kivu Province continues without regard for the residents of the region, who are buffeted one way or another by offensives and counteroffensives. For now, however, it appears that RAC has stepped back from its announced intention of taking the war to Kinshasha, which was always more of a threat than a potential reality due to the great distances, difficult terrain and hostile groups that would be encountered on any march to the national capital. If the RAC actually withdraws from Goma in the coming days (which is by no means guaranteed), it has still emerged from the latest round of fighting with greater wealth, more arms and a degree of respect for their military capabilities when matched with FARDC. The question is whether RAC can translate their new situation into an agreement by a largely unwilling DRC government to consider or even discuss their demands. For the moment, FARDC, even with the support of UN forces, is almost certainly incapable of driving RAC from its lucrative bases in the mining regions of Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu. The region’s notorious volatility and reputation as a haven for every type of bandit and would-be revolutionary does not hold much promise that a truce with one group will prevent other groups from continuing to rampage across the eastern Congo. In the end, Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC all value their proxy militias too much to be expected to take decisive steps to bring peace to a region bearing impressive mineral wealth for those willing to bend international protocols to exploit it.


1. For background on the M23, see Andrew McGregor, “M23: A New Player in the Proxy Wars of the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Terrorism Monitor, July 26, 2012.

2. For Ntaganda, see Andrew McGregor, “War Crimes, Gold Mines and Mutiny in the North-East Congo: A Profile of General Bosco Ntaganda,” Militant Leadership Monitor, August 31, 2012,

3. The ICGLR consists of 11 member-states: Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia.

This article was originally published in the Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor

The Face of Egypt’s Next Revolution: The Madinat Nasr Cell

Andrew McGregor

November 20, 2012

A raid by Egyptian security forces in a suburb of Cairo on October 24 revealed an unexpected intersection of several important threads in the evolving security situation in the Middle East, including a possible revival of domestic terrorism in Egypt, the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi and Cairo, the cross-border shipment of Libyan arms, the growing Islamist role in the Syrian insurgency, the growth of Islamist militancy in the Sinai, the return to arms by political prisoners freed during the Egyptian Revolution, a possible reversal in the declining fortunes of Egypt’s internal security services and a new direction for a beleaguered al-Qaeda leadership.

Egyptian PoliceThe initial raid on a first-floor gymnasium converted into an armory in the crowded Cairo suburb of Madinat Nasr (Nasr City) has now blossomed into a nation-wide sweep of militants and hidden caches of arms and explosives. With Egypt in the midst of a difficult democratic transition made harder by a deteriorating security situation in the Middle East, details of the terrorist campaign outlined in the charges against members of the Madinat Nasr cell are especially disturbing. The Islamist suspects have been accused of accumulating weapons, planning the assassination of a wide swathe of Egyptian political figures, including newly elected president Muhammad al-Mursi, and of seeking to overthrow Egypt’s elected government.

The Raid

The investigation into the alleged terrorist cell began with the search of a car belonging to suspected jihadis Bassam al-Sayyid Ibrahim, an escapee from Wadi al-Natrun prison, and his brother Haytham. After a hand grenade, explosives and fuses were seized from the vehicle, interrogations led to the raid in Madinat Nasr (al-Hayat, October 31, 2012). The raided property in a 15-storey residential building was allegedly rented by Karim Isam Ahmad Azzazi, who carried out various work at the property, including the installation of an iron door (al-Wafd [Cairo], October 28, 2012). Karim Isam detonated an explosive device during the raid, killing himself and causing enough structural damage there are fears the building may collapse. Witnesses described seeing a number of men fleeing from the building, one of whom was killed by police (al-Akhbar [Cairo], October 26, 2012). Those detained in the raid insist they were only smuggling arms from Libya to Syria and had no intention of carrying out terrorist operations in Egypt. Police believe that some of the suspects fled from Libya after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi (al-Tahrir [Cairo], October 29, 2012).

Karim Ahmad is alleged to be the author of a handwritten document found in the raid entitled “The Conquest of Egypt.” The work is reported to provide a detailed plan for the establishment of an Egyptian Caliphate through a campaign involving the assassination of leading Egyptians, including the president and the newly appointed Coptic pope, a wave of bombings (especially in places where Coptic Christians are known to gather), attacks on military posts in Cairo and the Sinai and the takeover of communications networks (al-Arabiya, November 13, 2012). Other materials found in the raid include blueprints of important buildings, records of the movements of significant individuals and plans to strike the U.S. and Israeli embassies (al-Tahrir [Cairo], October 29, 2012; al-Shuruq al-Jadid [Cairo], October 31, 2012; al-Wafd [Cairo], October 29, 2012).

Various reports of the contents of the weapons cache uncovered in Madinat Nasr are so inconsistent as to be useless in determining the threat level posed by the group. These accounts report the seizure of quantities of surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank rockests, bags of TNT, explosive belts, Katyusha rockets, hand grenades, rifles and detonators, often in wildly varying quantities (al-Akhbar [Cairo], October 26, 2012; November 14; al-Arabiya, November 2, 2012); Some Islamists have suggested there were no weapons at all in the raided building, but journalists with a state-controlled Egyptian daily said they witnessed a “large number of heavy and light weapons” being removed from the building (al-Akhbar [Cairo], October 26, 2012).

On October 27, security forces in Alexandria raided a shop in the Burj al-Arab district, seizing 20 sacks of TNT they believed had been stored there by members of the Madinat Nasr cell (Amal al-Ummah [Alexandria], October 28, 2012; al-Akhbar [Cairo], November 8, 2012). Other explosives were reportedly found in a warehouse in the Cairo suburb of al-Sayyida Zaynab and in a car driven by accused members of the Madinat Nasr cell (al-Akhbar [Cairo], November 8, 2012). Four Sinai Bedouin were arrested on October 29 in Giza Governorate in possession of automatic weapons and a large amount of explosives they confessed to obtaining for use against institutions in Cairo and Gaza. Police claimed the four were tied to the Madinat Nasr cell (al-Ahram [Cairo], October 30, 2012; al-Hayat, October 31, 2012).

Many of the Islamist militants now active in Egypt are said by security sources to have fled the Sinai following the intensification of the counter-terrorist “Operation Sinai” in September. They have since spread to a number of Egyptian governorates, including the densely populated capital region (Egypt Independent, October 27). Police also suspect that Sinai militants recently arrested while preparing to carry out terrorist attacks on the Red Sea tourist resorts of Sharm al-Shaykh and Dahab may have ties to the Madinat Nasr cell (al-Hayat, October 31, 2012).

The al-Qaeda Connection

With al-Qaeda relegated to the sidelines during the momentous events of the Egyptian Revolution, al-Qaeda leader and veteran Egyptian jihadist Ayman al-Zawahiri has attempted to keep his movement relevant and his name familiar to Egyptians by releasing a long series of video statements entitled “A Message of Hope and Glad Tidings to Our People in Egypt.” In the eleventh and latest release in this series, al-Zawahiri described al-Mursi as a president without authority who was cooperating with the United States in the “War on Terror” while failing to commit to a nation-wide jihad to liberate Palestine. The solution to this problem, according to the al-Qaeda leader, is the initiation of a new revolution that will bring the people of Egypt to Islam. Al-Zawahiri’s chosen instrument for this new phase of revolution is Shaykh Hazim Abu Isma’il, a leading Egyptian Salafist and colleague of the al-Qaeda leader’s brother, Muhammad al-Zawahiri and Aboud al-Zomor, an Islamist leader released during the revolution after nearly three decades of imprisonment for his role in the Sadat assassination:

Shaykh Hazim, his followers, and all loyal people in Egypt should launch a popular campaign of incitement and preaching so as to complete the revolution that has been aborted and the gains of which have been compromised. We urge them to apply the rules of Shari’a and ensure pride, justice, freedom, and dignity for the steadfast mujahideen and Muslim people of Egypt. [1]

Shaykh Hazim, Aboud and Muhammad al-Zawahiri were all observed at the September 12 storming of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, an event for which the Islamists later claimed responsibility. Muhammad al-Zawahiri has also expressed his opinion that the democratic process is un-Islamic as it gives rule to people rather Allah and has stated that he and his Salafist colleagues do not recognize al-Mursi’s authority (al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], November 12, 2012; Capital Broadcasting Center TV [Cairo], October 4, 2012). Shaykh Hazim was a would-be candidate in the presidential elections earlier this year but his candidacy was eventually rejected by the Electoral Commission on the grounds that his mother had American citizenship, a violation of the rules contained in the Egyptian constitution. The shaykh is a vocal opponent of the Egyptian military’s political influence, though some Egyptian Salafists have withheld their full support of Shaykh Hazim because the shaykh’s father was a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a scholar at Cairo’s al-Azhar Islamic university, the center of Sunni Islamic orthodoxy (Egypt Independent, March 8, 2012).

The Brotherhood’s spokesman, Dr. Mahmud Ghuzlan, said that al-Qaeda’s criticism of al-Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood was in fact an honor “because it proves the Muslim Brothers’ moderation and [the effectiveness of] its middle-of-the-road approach in confronting extremists” (Amal al-Ummah [Alexandria], September 29, 2012). A leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, Azab Mustafa, suggested that al-Zawahiri’s arguments were irrational because al-Qaeda’s jihadist ideology “does not exist in Egypt” (al-Shorfa [Cairo], October 31, 2012).

Dr. Najih Ibrahim, a founder and former leader of the Salafist al-Gama’a al-Islamiya [GI], has warned of a recent and explosive growth in the takfiri tendency in Egypt: “Suddenly I woke up to the fact that the takfiri ideology has spread in an amazing way after the revolution; it has not stopped at considering the liberals, the socialists, and their ilk as infidels, but it has extended to judging as infidel anyone they considered to be so in the past, as if we have not elected a religious president.” The former GI leader further claims that dozens of jihadist cells have been established across Egypt and are awaiting instructions from abroad before carrying out operations in Egypt (al-Hayat, October 27, 2012).

Tarik al-Zomor, a current co-leader of GI who was freed from three decades of imprisonment along with his aforementioned cousin Aboud al-Zomor during the Revolution, has said that he thinks it unlikely jihadi groups will make a comeback in Egypt because the revolution created new political conditions that exclude Islamist violence and that it is now necessary for the GI to help the president in working towards the implementation of Shari’a (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, November 2, 2012; al-Hayat, October 28, 2012). More recently, however, a statement from GI’s political wing has called for the dissolution of the cabinet and the creation of a parallel “revolutionary government” in opposition to the ruling political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the movement accuses of “hijacking the revolution and denying the people its profits” (al-Masry al-Youm, November 19, 2012).

Tarik al-Zomor also insists Interior Ministry claims that the suspects were preparing terrorist strikes within Egypt are fabrications designed to help state security forces regain their hold over Egyptian society and suggests that the men may have been transporting Libyan arms to Syria (DPA, November 2, 2012). Other Egyptian Islamists have echoed these sentiments (Ahram Online, November 1, 2012). However, Interior Minister General Ahmad Jamal al-Din angrily rejected suggestions the case was another police fabrication in the style of the Mubarak-era: “Did [they] expect us to wait until some important locations were bombed? Did they not see the fire which erupted after the explosion inside the apartment of Madinat Nasr while it was being raided?” (al-Akhbar [Cairo], November 8, 2012).

The Interior Ministry

According to police, one of the targets of the Madinat Nasr cell was the Interior Ministry headquarters in Cairo (al-Masry al-Youm, October 30, 2012). The Ministry, for decades the arch-enemy of Egypt’s Islamists in a dirty war fought out in the backstreets of urban housing projects and in blood-spattered interrogation rooms, continues to be viewed by the Islamists as a force working against Egypt’s interests despite its near collapse in the wake of the revolution (see Terrorism Monitor, April 7, 2011). Muhammad al-Zawahiri has gone so far as to accuse the Interior Ministry and other security bodies of “adopting the Israeli agenda to separate Sinai from Egypt” (al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], November 12, 2012).

Following reports that jihadis fleeing Egyptian operations in the Sinai had prepared an assassination list of 300 political figures, there were demands from some quarters that the Ministry restore ex-members of the pre-revolutionary security apparatus who specialized in the investigation of jihadi and takfiri elements (al-Dustur [Cairo], October 29, 2012).

Changes in the structure of the Interior Ministry and its operations made at the behest of the Muslim Brothers are said to have angered a large number of mid-level officers (al-Shuruq al-Jadid [Cairo], November 13, 2012). Police methods are proving resistant to change in post-revolutionary Egypt, with the familiar abuses of the Mubarak-era still prevailing. A recent report from the El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture documented 88 cases of police torture in the first 100 days of al-Mursi’s presidency and 34 incidents of death at the hands of police. [2] The Minister of the Interior, meanwhile, has warned civil society organizations to beware of false claims of torture and other excesses by policemen (al-Akhbar [Cairo], November 8, 2012). A lawyer for the original eight accused in the Madinat Nasr case maintains that they have all suffered torture during their interrogations and several of the suspects told prosecutors they had been tortured after their arrest (al-Shorouk [Cairo], November 3, 2012; al-Hayat, November 4, 2012).


It is a fact borne out by history that revolutions rarely finish where and when they are expected to finish. In Egypt’s case, it could hardly have been foreseen that in such a short time into their rule the most dangerous opposition to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood would come from other Egyptian Islamists. In the world of the takfiri extremists, even President al-Mursi can assume the role of an apostate tyrant on the level of Mubarak and Sadat. Of similar importance is the establishment of transnational networks connecting Salafi-Jihadists from Libya to Syria that were unthinkable only two years ago under the combined rule of Qaddafi, Mubarak and Assad.

Have Egyptian police uncovered an Egyptian terrorist cell determined to carry out a wave of violence designed to overthrow the Mursi government? Or have they uncovered a pipeline of arms and fighters running between jihadi groups in Libya and jihadi insurgents in Syria? The Interior Ministry would have reason to prefer the former; establishing an internal danger to the state and its president would go a long way towards preserving the latitude of action and culture of immunity the Ministry’s agents have traditionally enjoyed. With the Ministry in tight control of the information flow concerning the case and key evidence yet to be made public, it is hard to say at the moment which scenario is accurate. What is certain, however, is that whether the Madinat Nasr cell intended to operate within Egypt or not, Islamist militants are organizing within Egypt, many of them at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood government and entirely capable of translating that opposition into violent attacks by exploiting the new free flow of Libyan arms across northeast Africa.

The question of the purpose of the Madinat Nasr group and other armed cells disrupted later is central to determining whether Ayman al-Zawahiri’s calls for a new, armed phase of the Egyptian Revolution to implement the organization’s version of Shari’a and focus Egypt’s military on defeat of the Zionist enemy have a receptive audience among the roughly 1,200 Islamist militants who escaped prison, were released during the revolution or have returned from exile after the fall of Mubarak (al-Hayat, October 27, 2012). There is little question the al-Qaeda leader would like to reinsert himself into the political equation in Egypt, a land where an all-pervasive security regime eventually squashed al-Zawahiri’s EIJ in the 1990s and prevented al-Qaeda infiltration before the Egyptian Revolution brought the collapse of the internal security apparatus and effective border controls. An al-Qaeda inspired or controlled terrorist campaign at this most critical time in Egypt’s difficult political transition would quickly threaten to derail Egypt’s already erratic progress towards democracy and unleash new and unpredictable forces throughout the Middle East.


1. “As-Sahab media presents a new video of Hope and Glad Tidings to Our People in Egypt,” October 24, 2012.

2.  “100 days of Morsi Rule: 100 days of detentions, torture, violent crash on protests and killing outside the law,” El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture, Cairo, November 13, 2012,

This article first appeared as a Jamestown Foundation “Hot Issue”

Sudanese Islamist Hassan al-Turabi Predicts Islamic Government Will Replace Military Regime

Andrew McGregor

November 15, 2012

al-turabi 2Dr. Hassan Abdullah al-Turabi

In a recent interview with a pan-Arab daily, Dr. Hassan Abdullah al-Turabi, the former leader of the Sudanese Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) and the nation’s leading Islamist, predicted the sudden and imminent collapse of Sudan’s current military/Islamist regime and its replacement with an Islamist government:

My personal assessment is that [the regime in Khartoum] is going to collapse and fall. The country is torn up, there are threats of severing other parts of it, and there is no freedom. Suppression leads to explosion, and the economic crisis is exerting severe pressure on the people. This kind of tension in most cases brings in revolution. The situation of the regime is very bad; it is abject, hunted down, politically isolated, and criminally accused by the world; and internally it is as you can see. I expect it to collapse suddenly… I beseech God that the opposition is prepared, because if the regime collapses, we will move from an odious regime to chaos, and the situation will be worse than it is in Somalia, because of the lack of something that unites the Sudanese (al-Sharq al-Awsat, November 1, 2012).

Al-Turabi is the Sorbonne-educated pioneer of modern political Islam in the Sudan and the former sponsor of Osama bin Laden’s presence in that country in the 1990s. Today, he is the leader of the People’s Congress Party (PCP), an Islamist faction that broke away from the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), headed by President Field Marshal Omar al-Bashir (wanted by the International Criminal Court) and effectively managed by al-Turabi’s former Ikhwan deputy, Ali Osman Muhammad Taha.

One of Sudan’s most controversial political figures, al-Turabi is disliked by many Sudanese for his central role in introducing Islamic law in Sudan in the early 1980s as Attorney General in the government of dictator General Ja’afar Nimieri. Turabi’s Islamic legal code, the notorious “September Laws,” were strongly criticized within Sudan for their emphasis on punishments such as amputations and crucifixions and their failure to address issues of social justice, the establishment of which is generally regarded as a necessary precursor to the implementation of harsh huduud punishments. Al-Turabi’s push for nation-wide Shari’a is often cited as one of the main causes behind the Sudan’s return to civil war in 1983, a conflict in which over two million Sudanese perished.

Al-Turabi also revealed he fears he is the potential target of a Western assassination attempt. “The West hated Islam and hence it killed Bin Laden and it only has al-Turabi [left] now. They have hit me in Canada, but it was not yet my time of death” said al-Turabi, referring to a 1992 assault on the Islamist by a Sudanese karate champion in an Ottawa airport that left al-Turabi hospitalized for a month. Though his attacker claimed the assault was a spontaneous reaction to seeing the Islamist leader in the airport, al-Turabi now seems to have woven the attack into a larger Western conspiracy to eliminate him.

The Sudanese Islamic Movement split in 1999, leading to the existence of two wings, the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and al-Turabi’s Popular Congress Party (PCP). Since the split, al-Turabi has had a contentious relationship with the regime, leading to several terms of imprisonment, most notably in 2009, when al-Turabi supported the ICC indictment of President Omar al-Bashir on war crimes charges.

According to al-Turabi, the Sudanese opposition has agreed that this regime is hopeless, and we have to work to remove it completely. Now, our priority is to overthrow the regime, and our methods are peaceful. We have learned a lesson from the military coups d’état, as whoever stages a coup d’état [finds] it is turned against him” (al-Hayat, October 19, 2012).

Elsewhere, al-Turabi has maintained that of Sudan’s opposition groups, only the Islamists have the organization and grassroots support needed to take power in the aftermath of an impending popular revolution (al-Jazeera, October 14, 2012). Reflecting on the 1989 coup that brought Omar al-Bashir into power with the support of al-Turabi and the Ikhwan, the Islamist leader concedes that “with hindsight we have said: ‘This was wrong, wrong;’ change ought to have happened through a popular revolution.” Al Turabi’s enthusiasm for a popular revolution in Sudan is not shared by all the opposition elite; former prime minister and leader of the Umma Party Sadiq al-Mahdi has warned that such a revolution would lead to the breakup of what remains of the country (Sudan Tribune, October 15, 2012).

While al-Turabi foresees an Islamist takeover in Sudan, the ruling NCP is busy replacing Sudan’s transitional 2005 constitution with one that would establish Sudan as an Islamic state, a change promised by al-Bashir in the event that the largely non-Muslim South Sudan voted for separation. The opposition has refused to partake in talks regarding the creation of an Islamic constitution until the NCP is replaced by a more representative transitional government, but the NCP has warned it “doesn’t want any disagreement” over the issue (Sudan Tribune, October 31, 2012).

This article was originally published in the Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor

Al-Qaeda Support in Northern Mali Begins to Crumble as Allies Pull Back

Andrew McGregor

November 15, 2012

It was an alliance that shocked security professionals and political observers – a coalition of Tuareg military veterans, Muslim militants from West Africa and one of al-Qaeda’s most active and vicious regional chapters, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). This grouping was able to force Tuareg nationalist rebels from the urban centers of northern Mali earlier this year and has since been engaged in applying its own crude version of Islamic law in the region in defiance of both local and international opposition. Now, however, in the face of growing plans for an international military intervention to take back northern Mali, al-Qaeda appears to be in danger of losing the support of many of the allies in the region that enabled AQIM to be the first branch of al-Qaeda to establish its own proto-state.

Ould BoumamaSanda Ould Boumama

The largely Tuareg Ansar al-Din movement has discovered that while it is possible to seize territory in remote northern Mali, it still lacks the authority to impose Shari’a without some type of recognition by the international community. There is speculation that movement leader Iyad ag Ghali is now seeking to escape this dilemma by transforming Ansar al-Din from an armed movement to an Islamist political party (Le Combat [Bamako], November 5). The movement is trying to distance itself from its Islamist partners in northern Mali by asserting its independence “from any other group” and its willingness to enter negotiations (L’Essor [Bamako], November 6).

Ansar al-Din even appears to have backed off, at least temporarily, from its demands for the nation-wide implementation of Shari’a in Mali. According to movement negotiator Muhammad ag Aharid, “It is not the moment to talk of the Shari’a; it will be perhaps later when we shall have reached a compromise to restore peace to the country” (Jeune Afrique, November 8, 2012).

The movement now has separate negotiating teams in the official peace talks in Ouagadougou and in unofficial but possibly more significant talks in Algiers, reportedly being attended by Ag Ghali himself (Jeune Afrique, November 4, 2012; Le Républicain [Bamako], November 7, 2012; al-Hayat, November 9, 20121).

The negotiating group in Ouagadougou has committed to a process of political dialogue with the transitional government in Bamako, as well as a cessation of hostilities and the free movement of people, goods and humanitarian assistance in northern Mali. Most importantly, the movement’s negotiators say Ansar al-Din rejects all forms of extremism and terrorism (PANA Online [Dakar], November 8, 2012).

An Algerian source involved in the negotiations claimed that the Ansar al-Din delegation had issued a statement in which the movement declared it was not ideologically associated with al-Qaeda, with one member of the delegation claiming that accusations of terrorism leveled at the movement were designed to prevent the group’s participation in dialogue (al-Hayat, November 9, 2012). The statement would seem to open the way to direct negotiation with transitional authorities in Bamako.  However, the existence of the Ansar al-Din statement was immediately questioned by movement spokesman Sanda Ould Boumama, who insisted that if Ag Ghali had decided to distinguish the movement from AQIM, he “would normally have been in the know” (Tout sur l’Algerie, November 4, 2012). A day later, though, Boumama sounded more positive about the Algiers negotiations, telling an Algerian newspaper that “the solution will be reached through the gate of Algeria” (el-Khabar, November 5, 2012).

Algeria’s position on the crisis in northern Mali has gradually grown closer to the “double approach” favored by ECOWAS; a process of dialogue that does not rule out the use of armed force. Diplomatic efforts are underway to persuade Algeria to contribute to the planned military intervention, at the very least in the context of giving authorization for flyovers and the use of the military airport at Tamanrasset. Even if Algeria chooses to opt out of the intervention, it will still need to increase its deployment of troops along the 1,200 mile border with Mali to prevent the infiltration of militants trying to escape the intervention (L’Indépendant [Bamako], November 5, 2012).

Burkinabe Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole says that he went to Kidal (the home province of ag Ghali in northern Mali) in August to advise the movement that “the atrocities that were being committed in their name were prejudicial to them and were likely to drown completely the demands of the Tuareg community and that it was high time they distanced themselves from them.” Bassole went on to describe Burkina Faso’s approach to the Tuareg role in the conflict:

We, as a neighboring country [to Mali] and member of the same regional community, do not want to declare war on a given community. We have Tuaregs in Burkina Faso, Niger has them, and Algeria also has them. There are Tuaregs almost everywhere, we do not want to give the impression that we are going to war against the Tuaregs. We want to wage war on scourges, on terrorism, and on organized crime. That is why we want to give a chance to the Tuareg movements to get a grip on themselves, to distance themselves from what has completely changed the nature of their demands – crime and terrorism (Jeune Afrique, November 10, 2012).

There are still questions regarding the sincerity of Ansar al-Din’s renunciation of al-Qaeda and its commitment to participating in military efforts to drive the organization out of northern Mali. According to movement spokesman Muhammad ag Aharib, “AQIM is made up of Muslims like us. It is not part of our ethics to fight other Muslims” (al-Watan [Algiers], November 9, 2012). Anything short of such action, however, is unlikely to erase the suspicions of the authorities in Bamako.

Besides Ansar al-Din’s wavering, AQIM may have lost the support of one of its senior commanders, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who was notably overlooked for promotion in a recent shake-up of the AQIM leadership in the Sahel (see Terrorism Monitor Brief, November 1). Algerian security sources now claim that the Mali-based Belmokhtar is convinced AQIM leader Abd al-Malik Droukdel is after his head and is preparing to go to war against his former comrades. The dispute supposedly began once the AQIM leadership learned Belmokhtar was in regular contact by telephone with two former AQIM leaders, Hassan Hattab and Abd al-Haq Layada, who have passed on government assurances to Belmokhtar that he will not be handed over to an international court if he defects from the movement. Having lost the trust of the rest of AQIM, Belmokhtar is said to be in a perilous position that can only be remedied by turning himself in to Algerian authorities as soon as possible (al-Quds al-Arabi, October 22, 2012).

Elsewhere, al-Qaeda ideologue Abu Hafs al-Mauritani (a.k.a. Mahfouz Ould al-Walid) has announced his opposition to the means being used by Ansar al-Din and its allies to create an Islamic state in northern Mali, going so far as to offer himself as a mediator in negotiations (L’Indicateur du Renouveau [Bamako], October 30, 2012).

Even the recently established Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) is reported to be suffering desertions as preparations for an ECOWAS military intervention intensify. Members of terrorist groups like MUJWA or AQIM can expect little mercy from international African forces or Malian troops eager for retribution for the massacres of Malian troops at Aguelhoc and elsewhere in the early months of the year. The MUJWA commander in Gao, Abd al-Hakim, has warned that further desertions will not be tolerated: “Any element who tries to take flight will be executed, and any suspected elements will be gunned down… All those who have accepted recruitment will wage this war… We will wage this war together, whether we win or lose it” (Le Combat [Bamako], November 7, 2012).

This article was originally published in the Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor

Kenya’s Coast Province and the Mombasa Republican Council: Islamist, Separatists or Political Pawns?

Andrew McGregor

Terrorism Monitor, November 2, 2012

Kenya’s decision to launch a military intervention in Somalia to eliminate the threat posed by the Islamist al-Shabaab movement has resulted in battlefield successes but has also led to terrorist attacks and riots in the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa and even the formation of a Kenyan chapter of al-Shabaab. Simultaneous with these events are a growing number of incidents of political violence in Kenya’s largely Islamic Coast Province, a region with an active secessionist movement that operates under the name of the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC).

Kenya provincial mapFormed in 1999, the MRC has until recently focused on legal means of attaining independence for the Coast region, which has significant cultural, linguistic, ethnic, historical and religious differences from the inland regions of Kenya where national power is held. In the Coast Province, the dominant culture and language is Swahili, which reflects a Bantu core and strong influences from Arab, Asian and European sources. Most indigenous residents refer to themselves as “Coasterians” rather than “Kenyans” and have numerous grievances with the Nairobi government over issues such as underdevelopment, poverty, land ownership, unemployment and government projects that bring few benefits to Coast residents.

A Question of Sovereignty

The Coast Province consists of the coastal strip of Kenya on the Indian Ocean and is inhabited by Mijikenda, Swahili and Arab peoples, representing a population of roughly 22.5 million. The coastal region came under the rule of Omani Arabs based in Zanzibar after they expelled Portuguese colonists in the late 18th century following 200 years of rule. The Sultan of Zanzibar agreed to lease the coastal region of modern Kenya (then known as “al-Zanj”) to the Imperial British East Africa Company in 1888. An 1895 treaty between Britain and the Sultan brought the region under formal British protection, with the residents remaining subjects of the Sultan rather than subjects of the British crown, as in the Kenya colony. It is this point that is the principal basis for the MRC’s legal challenges to its incorporation into post-independence Kenya. [1]

Some MRC members also claim that Jomo Kenyatta, the first prime minister of Kenya, had signed a separate 50-year lease agreement for the Coast strip with Zanzibar that will expire next year, when the Coast region will become independent. However, the movement cannot produce documentation of this claim and there is no reference to it in the existing agreements on which the Kenyan state was founded (Institute for Security Studies [Nairobi], June 27).

A 1908 British ordinance usurped most of the traditional claims to land-ownership on the Coast by declaring all land not under cultivation to be “crown land,” thus transferring title to most of the Coast to the state, a system inherited by modern Kenya, which has used the distribution of such lands to up-country Kenyans as a means of patronage or as the basis of resettlement schemes and industrial projects that do little for Coast residents. Little of the wealth created in the region by its busy ports and flourishing tourist industry makes its way into the hands of locals, who face wide-scale unemployment and land loss through various land reforms favoring landholders from the interior. In this economically depressed environment many young men are turning to heroin use while impoverished young women are often absorbed into Mombasa’s sex trade.

In the lead-up to Kenya’s independence in 1963, Coast residents tended to join either the mwambao (Swahili, lit. “coastline”; in this context meaning “self-governing”) or majimbo (Swahili, lit. “regions,” i.e. federalist) camps. The mwambao movement began in the years prior to independence as Coastal Arabs and Swahili feared being taken over by local Africans and migrants from the “upcountry” regions of Kenya. Unfortunately, many Coast residents believed Kenyan independence would mean the restoration of their lands, not their transfer to a new authority. [2] The majimbo current ultimately prevailed, but many of its proponents on the Coast later changed their mind when various protections and guarantees granted to the Coast were pushed aside by the post-independence government. The new nation of Kenya was, in part, an assembly of unwilling elements under the dominance of the tribes of the highland region, with many in the coastal region and the north-eastern ethnic Somali region having serious reservations about union with Kenya.

The Kaya Bomba Raiders

Prior to Kenya’s 1997 general elections, shadowy figures thought to be agents of the governing Kenya African National Union (KANU) began organizing Coast youth and veterans bitter over alleged discrimination in the Kenyan military and government land distribution policies at a base at Kaya Bombo in Kwale District. Most of the recruits hailed from the Digo, one of the nine tribes composing the Mijikenda group (a largely colonial construct). Dressed in black robes bearing a star and crescent moon and armed with firearms and machetes, the Raiders slaughtered up-country people as well as many non-Digo coastal residents who could not respond to Digo greetings, this being the main method of determining who was native to the region and who came from up-country.

The performance of the General Service Unit (GSU) paramilitary and other Kenyan police units in combating the Kaya Bomba Raiders was so inept that even some of the militants came to the conclusion that the repeated refusals of the security forces to engage or pursue the raiders even under favorable conditions and the transfer out of the region of veteran police officers familiar with the terrain meant the militants were serving a political purpose, likely by disrupting coast society during voter registration. GSU methods focused on rounding up unarmed members of the Digo and subjecting them to arbitrary arrest, beatings, torture and rape. [3] The MRC has repeatedly denounced the Kaya Bomba Raiders, characterizing their “revolt” as an episode of state-organized political violence at odds with the objectives and methods of the MRC.

MRCKenyan Police Display Seized MRC Materials

The Rise of the Mombasa Republican Council

Since its formation, the MRC has pursued its quest for independence in the courts, citing the questionable status of the Coast region at the time of independence. The movement employs two main slogans; Pwani Si Kenya (“The Coast is not part of Kenya”) and Nchi Mpya Maisha Mpya (“New country, new life”), and is jointly governed by a Leadership Council composed of the movement’s executives and the more secretive Council of Elders. All MRC recruits go through an initiation known as “oathing.” This ceremony is an important exercise in the creation of secret societies on the Kenyan Coast. From various descriptions, the oathing usually consists of a ritual applied to recruits in a spiritually important place (such as a forest) involving ritual bloodletting and the taking of an oath to maintain secrecy and follow orders explicitly. In return, the new member receives supernatural protection from enemy weapons and the ability to render himself invisible from his enemies. [4]

Belief in supernatural forces has always been strong in the Coast region, but there are a growing number of young, educated “Coasterians” who reject what they describe as the deceptions practiced by local sorcerers and practitioners of witchcraft. Oathing itself is clearly based on pre-Islamic beliefs and folk traditions beyond the pale for most members of Salafist groups such as al-Shabaab or their allied organizations in Nairobi and Mombasa.

When the Kenyan government banned the MRC in October, 2010, the movement did not take up arms but instead took the government to court, achieving a surprising repeal of the ban from the Mombasa High Court on July 25 of this year. This success, however, only raised suspicions in some Kenyan quarters of the movement’s source of financing in light of the generally impoverished condition of its leadership (Nairobi Star, October 20). On October 9, security officials announced they had opened an investigation of several MPs and a number of businessmen related to support and funding of the MRC (The Standard [Nairobi], October 10; Capital FM, October 13). A prominent Muslim leader and member of parliament, Shaykh Muhammad Dor, was arrested on October 17 on charges of inciting violence after endorsing the MRC and promising to fund it “if asked” because it was “not an outlawed group” (Capital FM [Nairobi], October 19; AFP, October 18).

Violence Begins to Spread in the Coast Region

Grenade attacks in the Coast Province began in late March with an attack on a restaurant in Mombasa and another in the town of Mtwapa (AFP, March 31). An oathing ceremony at Kaloleni in the Kilifi District turned deadly on September 27 when a village elder was killed by people alleged to be involved in an oathing in the nearby forest. Local residents had watched the strangers arriving in the area and feared they were preparing an attack on Kaloleni. Villagers pursued the roughly 200 men and killed eleven of them, including seven by stoning. Four more men alleged to have been MRC members escaping the initial massacre were lynched after they tried to hijack a car in Samburu (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 29). Eight men, including an alleged “witchdoctor” responsible for administering the oaths were arrested and charged with various offenses (Standard [Nairobi], September 28; October 2).

After the lynchings, local police displayed items used in the oathing ceremonies, including flags, sheep heads, fresh sheep skins, black and red cloth, machetes, knives and various “concoctions” (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 29). However, one security source told journalists that “This was not the MRC. It is an entirely new group and it looks like we have a bigger security problem” (PANA Online, September 29).MP Najib Balala, the leader of the Republican Congress Party of Kenya, said that the MRC has legitimate grievances and was only fighting for justice: “We know what the MRC is. We have not seen terrorism in its face” (Nairobi Star, October 2).

Kenyan authorities blamed the MRC for a vicious machete attack on Fisheries Minister Amason Kingi at a campaign rally just north of Mombasa on October 4. Kingi survived the attack due to the efforts of his bodyguard, who was hacked to death before those attending the rally beat the three attackers to death (PANA Online, October 22). The Minister is considered the point man in the Coast region for Prime Minister Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), who is running for president in the coming elections (PANA Online, October 5). Odinga commented on the violence in the Coast region: “It looks to me like there are people who want to disrupt the elections and the registration of voters especially in the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) zones so that people cannot register and eventually vote” (PANA Online, October 9). According to Coast Provincial Police commander Aggrey Adoli, the attackers were MRC members who had just arrived from a forest where they had taken the oath. Adoli went on to advise local politicians to examine the MRC’s beliefs closely before offering their support to the movement (The People [Nairobi], October 8). However, MRC spokesman Rashid Mraja said that these and other youth found taking the oath in Coat region forests by security forces had been paid by local businessmen and politicians to join a violent militia (“the Muyeye movement”) designed to discredit the MRC’s calls for secession and ultimately lead to fighting between the two groups (The People [Nairobi], October 8).

GSU detachments are currently engaged in a disarmament campaign in the Tana River district and the pursuit of some 2,000 youth alleged to have taken the MRC oath in September (Daily Nation [Nairobi], October 22). A group of Tana residents have threatened to sue the GSU for alleged atrocities carried out during the campaign (KBC-TV, September 26). The district is host to long-standing tensions between Pokomo agriculturalists and Orma pastoraslists over access to water. These tensions exploded on August 22, when the Pokomo attacked an Orma camp, killing 62 men, women and children with machetes, spears and handguns (al-Jazeera, August 22). Further violence followed in a pair of retaliatory attacks on other villages in the district, killing another 50 people, including nine police officers (K24TV, September 7; Daily Nation [Nairobi], October 1). Despite the dispute over water rights, it appears to have been political considerations that set off the violence, with the Pokomo hoping to disrupt voter registration amongst the Orma in Tana River District, where all three MPs currently hail from the Pokomo tribe. A local MP, Dhadho Godhana, was dropped from cabinet and charged with inciting violence in the Tana River delta amidst claims from villagers that their attackers included many people they did not recognize and who appeared to be organizing the massacres (AFP, September 14). Muslim clerics in the region have told the tribes they are being used for political purposes and have urged them to form a peace council to prevent further violence (Nairobi Star, October 2).

Kenyan police reported that a group of suspected MRC members raided their camp in Likoni with “crude weapons” in the early hours of October 20. Three days earlier, a GSU officer was killed in a grenade attack (Daily Nation [Nairobi], October 17, October 20).

Sweeping Up the MRC Leadership

The MRC’s existence as a legal entity was short-lived, as the Mombasa Chief Magistrate accepted an application by the state and once again outlawed the MRC, ordering police to arrest all its leaders and present them in court to face fresh indictments (PANA Online, October 22). By coming back under an official ban, MRC activists will now be subject to the sweeping new powers given to security forces by the Prevention of Terrorism bill currently on its way to a third and final reading in the Kenyan parliament (KBC-TV, September 27; Standard [Nairobi], Spetember 27).

On October 14, police raided the home of MRC leader Omar Hamisi Mwamnuadzi in Kombani, south of Mombasa. Mwamnuadzi had gone into hiding after security forces began a crackdown on various groups on October 8. Police reported that they were met at the road leading to the MRC leader’s home by two bodyguards who threw a petrol bomb at a police vehicle. The bomb failed to explode and the two men were killed by police who then arrested 38 people, including Mwamnuadzi and his wife. The entire arsenal seized consisted of only four petrol bombs, one AK-47 rifle and 15 rounds of ammunition (Daily Nation [Nairobi], October 15).

After his arrest, Mwamnadzi was charged with possession of the firearm and 15 rounds of ammunition. Both the MRC leader and his wife, Maimuna Hamisis Mwavyombo, were additionally charged with practicing witchcraft and possessing articles used in witchcraft (Daily Nation [Nairobi], October 22). Police pointed to the MRC after a local administration official accused of giving out Mwamnuadzi’s location was the victim of a violent murder shortly after the MRC leader’s arrest (PANA Online, October 16).

At his release, Mwamnuadzi appeared to have been the victim of a severe beating, which he claimed was administered during his arrest, his death having been prevented only through the intercession of his bodyguards. The MRC leader lost four teeth while being detained and was unable to raise the $36,000 bond for his release and that of his wife (Nairobi Star, October 20).

Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki used a national “Heroes Day” broadcast on October 20 to warn the MRC that the government “will take firm and decisive action in dealing with those who have issued threats of secession or those who threaten our security. Kenya is one unitary state. The constitution is clear and so is our history. Let us learn from that history and not seek to distort it…” (KBC TV, October 20).

Other MRC leaders have been systematically rounded up or surrendered to security forces in recent days:

• Spokesman Muhammad Rashid Mraja was arrested on October 8 for calling for the secession of the Coast region and failed to make bail (KBC Online, October 8).
• Secretary General Randu Nzwai Ruwa was charged with incitement to violence on October 10 and released on $24,000 bail. (KBC, October 10).
• Treasurer Omar Suleiman Babu (a.k.a. Bam Bam) surrendered to police on October 23.
• Council of Elders’ chairman Hassan Mbwana Mwanguza was arrested in early October.

Islamist Connections?

In late September, Somalia’s al-Shabaab Islamists announced the creation of a Kenyan branch of the movement to be led by Shaykh Ahmed Iman Ali, the founder of the Shabaab-allied Muslim Youth Center (MYC, a.k.a. Pumwani Muslim Youth – PMY). Shaykh Ahmed quickly indicated the group would pursue revenge for al-Shabaab’s loss of the port of Kismayo to the Kenyan military by calling for “all means possible” to be used to kill the “infidels” in Mombasa, Nairobi “and across East Africa.” [5] In this environment, it is likely that Kenyan authorities will conflate political resistance (violent or non-violent) by the Coast Muslims of the MRC with the more serious pro-Shabaab Salafist threat. During an October 11 cabinet meeting, Kenyan ministers downplayed the possibility the recent violence on the Coast was motivated by local dissatisfaction with the government, suggesting instead that it was the work of al-Shabaab infiltrators and absentee landlords who had been adversely affected by changes to the land laws (Daily Nation [Nairobi], October 12).
Despite the attempt to paint the MRC as a religious-based movement, some Mombasa businessmen have more concrete reasons for disliking Kenya’s intervention in Somalia, as many made sizable profits by dealing contraband across the mutual border (Business Daily [Nairobi], October 8). It should also be noted that the MRC is not an exclusively Muslim organization. Pentecostal churches and pastors are reported to play a large part in MRC organizing activities. A pastor was among those MRC suspects arrested in a recent GRU operation in Tana River District (Daily Nation [Nairobi], October 22).


There is suspicion that Nairobi’s sudden offensive against MRC leaders is designed to disrupt election preparations in the Coast region, where Raila Odinga’s ODM took most of the vote in the 2007 elections, in which 1,200 people were killed and 600,000 displaced in post-election violence across Kenya after Odinga accused President Mwai Kibaki of rigging the vote. Outlawing the MRC brings the risk of greater political violence as the membership is forced to go underground. In current conditions, it appears unlikely that the MRC will be allowed to continue their recourse to the courts to address the group’s core issues.

Nevertheless, the MRC’s actual commitment to secession appears rather weak; the coast, after all, was never an independent state, coming at various times in various places under the rule or protection of the Portuguese, the Omani Arabs, the Germans, the British and finally the rule of Nairobi. Coastal independence is a goal not shared by the Salafists, who are pursuing an East African Islamic Caliphate that would include Somalia, the coasts of Kenya and Tanzania and other predominantly Muslim parts of the region.
The loose organization of the MRC and its informal membership system creates several problems for the movement, including the risk of infiltration by security forces, political manipulators or militants who do not share the MRC’s the movement’s goals and non-violent strategies. The MRC Youth Wing especially is agitating for stronger responses to state repression of the movement, but the repeated lynchings of those believed to be planning violence in the region reveals a popular distaste for any repetition of Kaya Bomba-type attacks and the often indiscriminate repression that followed. Despite this, movement leaders admit they are having difficulty in keeping the youth wing in check

MRC statements do not display any mention of or support for jihadi/Islamist agendas and the religion practiced by most Muslim MRC members incorporates traditional Islamic and folk beliefs rather than the austere Salafism that characterizes most of the Islamist movement. However, continuing speculation from government administrators that the MRC is allied with al-Shabaab and the challenge posed by the MRC’s call for a boycott of the forthcoming March 2013 general elections is likely to keep the MRC on the list of banned organizations. With the incarceration of most of the movement’s leadership, the MRC youth wing will remain susceptible to both political manipulation and even enticements from foreign jihadists able to promise a more forceful response to the government crackdown in the Coast region.


1. James R. Brennan, “Lowering the Sultan’s Flag: Sovereignty and Decolonization in Coastal Kenya,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 50(4), 2008, pp. 831-861.
2. See Paul Goldsmith, “The Mombasa Republican Council Conflict Assessment: Threats and Opportunities for Engagement,” Kenya Community Support Center, November 2011, , and “Playing with Fire: Weapons Proliferation, Political Violence and Human Rights in Kenya,” Human Rights Watch, New York, 2002.
3. Ibid, p.13.
4. “Playing with Fire: Weapons Proliferation, Political Violence and Human Rights in Kenya,” Human Rights Watch, New York, 2002, pp. 30-32.
5. Al-Kataib, October 19, 2012,

Bahrain Puts Shi’a Village under Siege

Andrew McGregor

Terrorism Monitor, November 2, 2012

Twenty months into a simmering Shiite “Arab Spring” style revolt in the Sunni-ruled Kingdom of Bahrain, the Gulf state’s Interior Ministry has issued orders banning all anti-government protests and demonstrations, claiming that Bahraini society was “fed up” with the regular demonstrations that call for the Khalifa royal family to step down (Mehr News Agency, October 30).

bahrain protestsProtests in Bahrain, 2012

The protests, often organized through social-networking sites, have continued despite violent crackdowns by Bahraini security forces that have killed at least 60 people. Bahrain’s role as host of the U.S. Fifth Fleet at the same time the kingdom’s monarchy represses calls for democracy by the Shi’a majority has given Iran a unique propaganda opportunity to attack their antagonists in America and the Sunni-ruled Gulf states.

Recently, Iranian press agencies seized on the alleged “siege” by Bahraini security forces of the village of al-Akr, 20 miles south of the Bahraini capital of Manama. Problems began in al-Akr on October 18, when police in the village were attacked with a homemade bomb that killed one officer and left a second in critical condition. Prior to the blast, residents of al-Akr were in the streets waving Bahrain’s flag and chanting slogans calling for the fall of the regime and the deposition of Bahrain’s ruler, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa (BBC, October 19). The demonstration was one of several called for by the February 14 Youth Coalition, an opposition group that organizes through social networking sites (AFP, October 19). Shiite activists claimed that the policeman killed in the attack was a “foreign national” (al-Alam [Tehran], October 21).

bahrain al-akrSecurity forces detained seven men in the incident and placed a cordon around the village that police said was intended to help capture other suspects in the bombing (NOW Lebanon, October 23). Opposition reports claimed that government reports that life in the village was continuing normally were false, suggesting that “mercenary forces” were preventing food and medical aid from reaching the village, had attacked a Shiite mosque and were punishing the village for its “past defiant stances” (Bahrain Online, October 23; Fars News Agency, October 23). In the Bahraini context, “mercenary” is a euphemism for troops and policemen from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE who entered Bahrain in March 2011 as part of the Peninsula Shield Force (PSF), a multi-national armed force under the command of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) (see Terrorism Monitor Brief, March 24, 2011).

Despite its small size, the village of al-Akr has been a hotbed of anti-regime activity that has turned violent before. On April 9, seven policemen were injured (three critically) by what police described as a pipe bomb attached to a container full of gasoline detonated near a police checkpoint. Police entered the village and arrested four suspects the following day, reportedly beating the relatives of those suspects who had evaded arrest. The village was surrounded by police forces who opposition elements claimed were imposing “collective punishment” (al-Arabiya, April 10; UPI, April 11).

In the latest incident, Iranian reports claimed security forces surrounding al-Akr had used “bombs and poisonous gas against citizens passing along the streets” (Fars News Agency, October 28). While tear gas and “sound bombs” were reported to have been used in confrontations with demonstrators in al-Akr, there is no evidence the town has otherwise been bombed or shelled.

Hoseyn Sobhaninia, a senior member of the Majlis (Iranian parliament) roundly condemned the “siege”: “The deadly silence of the international community has given the al-Khalifa regime freedom to continue suppressing and killing people and they keep [creating] human rights catastrophes by attacking defenseless people” (Press TV [Tehran], October 26). Ten Bahraini opposition groups and NGOs went so far as to send an urgent appeal to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to intervene in lifting “the siege on al-Akr” and to take a firm stand against Bahrain’s “collective punishment policy” (, October 21). Human rights activists in Bahrain called for the trial of Interior Minister Shaykh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa for crimes against humanity (Fars News Agency, October 24). Other reports insisted that Shiite opposition groups were inflating the seriousness of the situation in al-Akr in order to deflect public attention from the death of the policeman and prevent the apprehension of his killers (al-Watan [Manama], October 22; October 23). Four suspects detained in relation to the bombing later told an activist who met them in custody that they had been beaten and tortured into signing confessions (Fars News Agency, October 23).

Clashes following protests against the police activity in al-Akr spread to the predominantly Shiite village of Bani Jamra where police used tear gas and shotguns firing birdshot to battle demonstrators armed with Molotov cocktails and iron rods on October 23 (BBC, October 26). There were also reports of clashes with police outside al-Akr as activists tried to enter the village (al-Awwamiyah, October 23). On October 25, security patrols were attacked in the streets of Manama with firebombs and iron rods (al-Wasat [Manama], October 26). The continuing protests and street violence demonstrate that the Bahraini regime is still far from quelling anti-regime activity, as well as proving that some activists are ready to raise the stakes with fatal attacks on local security forces. With Iran ready to fan the flames created by opposition activity, it is clear that even a relatively minor incident could be used to precipitate a broader Shi’a uprising against the rule of the Sunni royal family.

This article was originally published in the Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor

Algeria Working to Split Tuareg Islamists from al-Qaeda in Northern Mali

Andrew McGregor

November 2, 2012

Algeria has modified its stance on the conflict in northern Mali by dropping its insistence on a mediated settlement based on dialogue in favor of a growing willingness to consider the military option to bring an end to Islamist rule in the region. Part of this shift may be attributed to Algeria’s desire to keep French military forces far from Algeria’s 870-mile border with Mali by providing military and logistical assistance to an African intervention force that would otherwise be provided by France. Algeria’s approach now appears to be based on efforts to separate the largely Tuareg Islamist Ansar al-Din movement from the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) Islamists who have occupied northern Mali.

Ansar al-Din 2Ansar al-Din Fighters

Referring to the possibility of an African Union/ECOWAS military intervention in Mali, a recent statement issued by Ansar al-Din warns of the efforts of the “temporary authorities in Mali” to “ignite a ferocious war in the region, and its involving of other parties in it, which doesn’t serve the interest of Mali itself or the neighboring countries and threatens regional stability…” The statement further discounted possible French involvement as being motivated by “greed in exploiting the underground resources and riches of the region.” The movement is, however, prepared to negotiate “through the mediation of Algeria and Burkina Faso” (Agence Nouakchott d’Information, October 19).

Ansar al-Din spokesman Sanda Ould Bouamama has also expressed the movement’s confidence in Algerian mediation:

Contacts with the Algerian authorities have not been interrupted, not even for 24      hours. Our delegations are often sent to Algiers. Algeria has repeatedly stated that a political solution exists. She has overcome difficulties and solved problems more difficult and complicated than ours. She has always found a solution. Some would not let [Algeria] play its role in the region (Tout sur l’Algérie, October 30).

When asked if Ansar al-Din would join an anti-terrorist coalition to expel AQIM from northern Mali, the spokesman initially expressed disinterest but was ultimately non-committal, an attitude which in itself suggests the movement is at least considering its options:

We are going to fight al-Qaeda in whose interest? For the interests of Obama? The problem of the Muslim world cannot be solved through war but rather with a realistic vision of the situation and with a return to religion. Those who would fight al-Qaeda must turn to religion and then ask themselves if they must fight al-Qaeda… I told you that we are an Islamist movement. We will fight those who our religion orders us to fight and we stop fighting when our religion requires us to do so (Tout sur l’Algérie, October 30).

Referring to Algeria’s colonial past, Bouamama appeared to regard Algeria as a potential guardian against foreign military intervention rather than a participant: “We will resist and defend ourselves; that is our right. I think that Algerians are best placed to know. Algeria has paid [in the fight against colonialism] with the blood of a million and a half martyrs. We will not be the first to suffer a military intervention” (Tout sur l’Algérie, October 30). The Ansar al-Din spokesman’s remarks were made the same day the Algerian minister of veterans’ affairs demanded a “frank acknowledgement” of French war crimes committed during the colonization of Algeria (Algérie Presse Service, October 30).

An Algerian daily said that official sources from Ansar al-Din had held a secret meeting with Algerian military commanders in Kidal in the fourth week of October to discuss the issue of foreign military intervention in northern Mali. According to the sources, the leader of the Algerian military delegation warned that Algeria was under pressure to take part in the intervention and had concluded such action was inevitable if terrorism was to be defeated in the region (El-Fadjr [Algiers], October 24).

Burkina Faso president Blaise Compaoré has been acting as a mediator for the crisis in northern Mali for several months and has met with both the largely sidelined Tuareg separatists of the Mouvement national pour la libération de l’Azawad (MNLA) and the Tuareg Islamists of Ansar al-Din. While it has been suggested that Compaoré is working to split Ansar al-Din from their AQIM and MUJWA allies, the Burkinabé president is adamant that he is “not seeking to divide anybody.” He does, however, follow the emerging line that the military option would target “only terrorists and traffickers,” i.e. the militants of al-Qaeda and MUJWA (Jeune Afrique, October 13).

ECOWAS spokesman Abdou Cheick Touré appeared to echo this approach when he noted a negotiated approach had not been abandoned and that it was “normal” to talk to the Tuareg of the MNLA and Ansar al-Din while emphasizing that the latter must drop their alliance with AQIM and MUJWA: “[The Tuareg] are Malians. We must see if they agree to come back into the republic, to abandon their secessionist ideas, to make peace and abandon other criminal groups” (AFP, October 30).

Algerian Foreign Ministry spokesman Amar Belani has claimed there is a trend in the press to characterize Algeria’s position on the military intervention as being at odds with its neighbors. Noting that the use of force was “legitimate” to eliminate terrorism and organized crime in the Sahel, Belani also drew a distinction between the Tuareg insurgents and the outside Islamist groups who were now based in northern Mali: “The use of force must be carefully done to avoid any ambiguity or confusion between northern Mali’s populations who have legitimate demands and the terrorist groups and drug dealers who must be the primary target…” (Algérie Presse Service, October 11).

There are reports that the MNLA has made important changes in its military leadership in anticipation of an offensive against AQIM. For the moment, they are still waiting to hear whether Ansar al-Din leader Iyad ag Ghali will be friend or foe in the looming struggle. Ag Ghali is said to be under strong pressure from his Ifoghas tribe to abandon his AQIM allies, with traditional Ifoghas chief Intalla ag Attaher telling ag Ghali: “It is now that you have to decide or in the future we will consider you as an enemy” (Jeune Afrique, October 29).

In a recent interview, Abdelkader Messahel, Algeria’s minister for Maghrebi and African Affairs, appeared to offer the Tuareg rebels a review of their grievances if they dissociated themselves with terrorism or separatism. According to Messahel, AQIM and MUJWA are “terrorists and drug traffickers” with whom there can be no negotiation: “I think that the time has come for these [Tuareg] groups in northern Mali to distance themselves from terrorism and organized crime. And at the same time for them to engage in a national process that will preserve Mali’s national unity and dissociate these groups from any quest for independence or any kind of collusion with these terrorist groups.” On Ansar al-Din’s alliance with AQIM and MUJWA, Messahel said: “We want this group to dissociate itself once and for all from any ties or collusion with all forms of terrorism. This is what we think, and this is what we want.” At the same time, Messahel emphasized the importance of strengthening the Malian army, “which must also be at the center of the Malian State’s redeployment throughout its territory” (RFI, October 16).

An AU delegation will meet with the defense ministers of Algeria, Mauritania and the ECOWAS nations and their military chiefs-of-staff on November 5 to discuss planning for a military intervention in Mali (Jeune Afrique, October 27).

This article was originally published in the Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor