Egypt: Bedouin face sweeps after Sinai terror

Note that this Reuters report on the Sinai bombings offhandedly mentions more sweeps of the peninsula’s Bedouin inhabitants. The Bedouin, their lands divided by Egypt and Israel, have been kicked around plenty on both sides of the border. The situation in the Sinai’s desert interior is approaching a small counterinsurgency war against the Bedouin–which will only have the effect of strengthening whatever ties exist to al-Qaeda in their communities. But Sinai only enters the headlines when a tourist resort gets blown up.

DAHAB, Egypt – Egyptian police detained at least 10 people, including three computer engineers, on Tuesday in connection with a triple bombing in the Sinai resort of Dahab that killed at least 18 people and wounded scores.

Security sources provided few details about those detained, but one source said three of them were computer engineers who had arrived in Dahab from Cairo the day before the blasts, which went off nearly simultaneously on Monday evening.

Foreign holidaymakers described scenes of carnage in the aftermath of the explosions, which were detonated near a cafe, a restaurant and a supermarket in the tightly packed streets of the popular tourist town.

Egypt’s Interior Ministry confirmed 18 deaths, among them four foreigners — a Russian, a Swiss man, a German child and a Lebanese national. Earlier the ministry put the death toll at 23. Lebanese authorities said they knew of no nationals killed.

The bombings, the third similar-style attack in the Sinai peninsula in the past 18 months, threatened to dent Egypt’s vital tourist industry, which brings in more than $7 billion a year and employs around 10 percent of the country’s workforce.

As well as those formally detained, police said around 70 local bedouin had been pulled in for questioning.

See our last posts on Egypt, the Bedouin and the Sinai crackdown.

  1. At least somebody is paying attention…
    From IRIN, May 4:

    EGYPT: In wake of Dahab blasts, North Sinai residents fear arrest campaign

    CAIRO – While media attention after last week’s bombings in the North Sinai resort town of Dahab focused on fears of future attacks and the inevitable impact on local tourism, residents of the nearby city of al-Arish were afraid of something else: Egyptian security forces.

    The 24 April bombing, which killed 18 and injured 85, occurred the day before a national holiday marking the handover of the Sinai Peninsula from Israel to Egypt. The timing has led the government to link the attack to two other bombings that have rocked the traditionally peaceful Sinai Peninsula in the last 18 months, both of which also targeted tourist areas on national holidays.

    Because investigations of previous Sinai bombings – in Taba in October 2004 and in Sharm el-Sheikh in July 2005 – focused on the Northern Sinai region, residents and local human rights organisations are bracing for fresh investigations in the area. Many fear that security forces will use the same harsh tactics they have deployed in the past, which have included random arrests, lengthy detentions without charge and torture.

    “We’re facing serious security mobilisation and people are in a state of terror over what the state will do,” said Ahsraf Ayoub, spokesman for the al-Arish Popular Committee for Human Rights, shortly after the latest bombing. According to Ayoub, 17 armoured cars with mounted machine guns have massed around the local State Security Investigation (SSI) office, while checkpoints are monitoring everyone going in and out of the city. While Ayoub could only confirm about 30 arrests since the Dahab attacks, he estimated the total number to be closer to 100.

    “The problem is that we can’t see the future,” said the popular committee’s Hassan Abdullah. “The techniques [of the SSI] are random. We can’t know what they’re going to do.”

    A Reason to Fear

    In mid-October 2004, days after a car bomb blew a hole in the Taba Hilton hotel on the Egyptian-Israeli border, which runs along the peninsula’s north-eastern edge, the SSI began a sweeping campaign of random arrests in the area. Most were carried out during night-time raids, in which armed security forces stormed homes and arrested young men. When suspects could not be found, security agents often detained family members, including women.

    On 25 October, the interior ministry’s said that it had identified the nine men responsible for the attack. However, the arrests continued into December, with Egyptian rights organisations estimating that between 2,500 and 3,000 people were detained in this period. Most of them were held without charges and many were reportedly tortured.

    Mohammed (not his real name), an al-Arish university student, says he was taken from his home by SSI agents in a pre-dawn raid in late October, 2004. For 12 days, he says, he was held in a local SSI office, where he was handcuffed, hung backwards and had electric wires fixed to his toes and genitals.

    For the next few months, Mohammed was transferred to a number of different locations. He was released in April 2005, with no charges ever being brought against him.

    A history of mistrust

    Many al-Arish residents believe the incident shows up a traditional pattern of mistrust and neglect in Northern Sinai. Unemployment there is high, and residents say that money allocated for development projects in the area often ends up going elsewhere.

    Locals also cite longstanding discrimination, which they attribute to Cairo’s inherent distrust of the region. Sinai is held to be a crossroads for drug smuggling, and many Sinai Bedouin have family ties that extent into neighboring countries, which the government believes diminishes their loyalty to Egypt. According to Ashraf Hefny, General-Secretary of the Tagammu Party’s al-Arish office, the government often keeps Sinai residents out of the armed forces, while many also have difficulty travelling. “As soon as they see the word ‘Sinai’ on your ID card anywhere else in Egypt, they single you out and question you,” said Hefny.

    The arrests that came in the wake of the Taba bombing, followed by a smaller series of detentions after the Sharm attacks, hardly improved matters. “This was the first time that the state dealt with the people of Sinai in such a harsh a manner,” said Ahmed Seif al-Islam, director the Cairo-based Hisham Mubarak Law Centre. “Even during the Israeli occupation, they were never treated this badly.”

    The government may have more reason to focus on Northern Sinai now that it has blamed the earlier bombings on a local militant group, Al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, which it says was founded in al-Arish in 2002.

    After Dahab

    Now, in the medium-term aftermath of the Dahab attacks, residents and human rights observers are bracing for the worst. “I expect that all types of pressure that the security forces have will be used in the coming days,” said Seif-al-Islam, four days after the bombing.

    He added that a solution lay in the provision of better government services, economic development and tolerable treatment by security forces. “Without that, they might succeed in arresting all the members of the group, but you’ll still have 40 others here and 30 others there,” he said.

    Al-Arish residents agree. “We don’t want to become the Kurds of Egypt,” said the popular committee’s Ayoub. “We don’t want to be considered a persecuted minority – we want to be treated like people living in the rest of the country.”

  2. Bedouin link to al-Qaeda?
    From the New York Times, May 7:

    EL ARISH, Egypt β€” The Melahy tribe of northern Sinai is the poorest in the region, its members herding other people’s cattle, farming other people’s land, its very name used as a slur among local Bedouins. And so Nasser Khamis al-Melahy held great promise for his family when he left his sun-baked home here for law school in the Nile Delta.

    But he never did practice law. Instead, he returned to this city on the banks of the Mediterranean and, the authorities say, helped set up an Islamist terrorist cell that has staged five suicide attacks in the Sinai, including a triple bombing in the resort town of Dahab last month…

    The animosity in El Arish is so deep that some people here say they admire the bombers. Some say they are resisting the government, others see them as bringing the misery of Bedouin lives home to foreigners who come on carefree vacations.

    “Because of the security pressure here people feel proud,” said Khalid Arafat, a local tribal leader. “They think most of those killed were Jews and foreigners.”

    It remains impossible to say what ultimately drove the sons of this coastal city toward terrorism. Friends of Mr. Melahy said that while he was growing up he was observant but not fanatical. He listened to music, a sign that he was not extremist, and went off to law school in Zagazig in the Nile Delta.

    But when he returned, he had grown a long beard. He started yelling at his friends, telling them not to smoke or listen to music, and he gave up law, because he said the only law was God’s law. Instead of opening a legal practice, he started working as a farmer, struggling to grow tomatoes and cantaloupe in a patch of sand with salty well water.

    The police now say that is when he and a group of other local young men began to form their terrorist cell. The cell, Tawhid and Jihad, was heavily influenced by men like Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and by Wahhabism, an austere sect of radical Islam whose roots lie in the Arabian Peninsula.

    Besides the attack in Dahab last month, the authorities contend the group is also responsible for the suicide attacks on Taba in 2004, Sharm el-Sheik in 2005, and three separate bomb attacks on multinational peacekeeping forces at the border with Israel…

    After the attacks on Dahab, police swept back into the area and chased Mr. Melahy and two others across northern areas of the Sinai Peninsula before finding their hideout between Gifgafa and Maghara in North Sinai. Since the manhunt began, the police said, six suspects have been killed in shootouts, and two officers, including a major.

    The Interior Ministry said that machine guns, live ammunition and a notebook sketching the details of the two most recent terrorist attacks had been found. It said that the notebook proved that the attacks were planned by people from the Northern Sinai.

    Reports don’t emphasize it, but the suspects arrested in the April 26 attack on peacekeeping troops in the Sinai also appear to be Bedouin. From Xinhua, May 6:

    The Egyptian police have identified the two suicide bombers who blew themselves up last month in north Sinai peninsula targeting foreign forces, the official MENA news agency reported on Saturday.

    The two bombers were identified as Salman Mohamed Saleem, 19, and Eid Hammad al-Tarawi, 25, according to the report.

    The two April 26 suicide bombings targeted a convoy of the Multinational Forces and Observers (MFO) and a police vehicle in north Sinai and killed only the bombers themselves.

    The MFO base was located in al-Gurah, 30 km southeast of al- Arish on the Mediterranean coast of the Sinai peninsula, which is very close to the border of Egypt and the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

    The suicide bombings came two days after triple deadly bomb attacks in the southern Sinai resort of Dahab, which killed 19 people and wounded over 90 others.

    The Egyptian authorities said the Gurah bombings were linked to the Dahab blasts.

    According to MENA, Mohamed Saleem was a brother of Salman Saleem and also a cousin of Saleem Ata, both of whom were wanted for involvement in the Dahab bombings.

    Mohamed Saleem was identified by his father, said MENA, adding that the second bomber, al-Tarawi, was identified by the wife of a wanted fugitive, despite his brothers’ denial.

    Mohamed Saleem espoused the ideology of the Tawheed and Jihad group (Unification and Holy War), which the Egyptian authorities said was behind the bombings in Dahab and Gurah as well as two other previous bomb attacks in popular Red Sea reorts of Taba and Sharm el-Sheikhr.

    On Oct. 7, 2004, a series of explosions rocked Taba, killing 34 people and injuring more than 100 others.

    On July 23, 2005, three bomb explosions hit Sharm el-Sheikh, leaving at least 60 people dead.

    From north to south, Taba, Dahab and Sharm el-Sheikh were all popular Red Sea resorts on the eastern side of Sinai.

    The MFO is an independent peacekeeping mission created as a result of the 1978 Camp David Accords and the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

    Various nations have contributed military and civilian personnel to the mission.

    Currently, the MFO maintained a 1,800-strong force from a total of 11 countries, namely, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Fiji, France, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, the United States and Uruguay.

    More from Reuters:

    An Egyptian who blew himself up in an attack on a multinational force in the Sinai peninsula was a 19-year-old student of Islam at a Cairo university, security sources said on Saturday.

    Eid Salman Mohammed Salim launched his suicide attack on April 26 on vehicles used by the Multinational Force and Observers. There were no MFO casualties.

    The MFO observes the implementation of Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel in the Sinai.

    Salim’s father had identified his son’s head at a morgue in El Arish, a town in northern Sinai where his family lived. Salim was a student of Islam at al-Azhar University in Cairo.

    “Eid came from his university on the morning of the incident, left his identity card and papers at home, and told his father that he was heading to work. Then he disappeared,” one security source said.

    Salim was a relative of two men wanted in April 24 bombings in the Red Sea resort of Dahab, which killed 19, the sources said. The suspects, Salman Salim el-Zayout and Salim Atta, were killed in clashes with the police in Sinai on Sunday.

    DNA tests were being conducted to identify the remains of a man who carried out a second suicide attack on April 26 near a police station, the sources said. Nobody was wounded in that attack.

    Security sources are blaming a series of attacks in Sinai since October 2004 on a group called Tawhid wal Jihad, which was also the name of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s militant group before it began calling itself Al Qaeda Organisation for Holy War in Iraq.

    Including the Dahab bombs, the Sinai attacks have killed at least 117 people. The Red Sea resort of Taba and beach camps further south were bombed in October 2004 and Sharm el-Sheikh was hit in July 2005.

    Men identified by the authorities as members of the group have come mainly from El Arish, which is a poor town on the Mediterranean coast.