When the Interior Ministry announced security forces killed Ajnad Misr leader Hammam Attia on Sunday night, some braced themselves for a retaliatory attack — but others predicted that his death could splinter the group’s very foundations.
“The operation was a success for national security,” says Gamal Abou Zekry, a former assistant interior minister who worked with the now-disbanded State Security Investigation Services (SSIS) for 40 years.
Attia “participated in terrorist acts in Afghanistan and Syria, and he returned to Egypt during [former President] Mohamed Morsi’s tenure. He was also in direct contact with allies to Osama Bin Laden. He had long been wanted by security forces,” the ex-official alleges.
Abou Zekry believes Attia’s death will profoundly impact Ajnad Misr’s activities, especially given the waning popularity of Islamist groups in Egypt following a rise in extremist violence.
However, Ahmed Ban, researcher on Islamic affairs, disagrees.
“We cannot consider this as something that will affect the fate of the group,” he argues. “Ajnad Misr is an indeterminate group, not a hierarchical one that would collapse if you target its leader.”
He explains that the group is comprised of cluster cells that make intermittent attacks with the aim of “keeping its opponent on its toes.” While Attia represents a “good catch” for security forces, his death is ultimately symbolic, says Ban.
The Interior Ministry claims that Attia was involved in 26 terrorist attacks since July 2013.
The Cairo-based group that he fronted has claimed responsibility for several deadly assaults targeting Interior Ministry personnel over the past year, including a series of bombings at Cairo University in April 2014 that left one police officer dead and injured at least five others. Ajnad Misr also claimed another Cairo University bombing last October that injured at least 10. The Cairo Court for Urgent Matters designated Ajnad Misr a terrorist organization last May.
Ali al-Raggal, a researcher focusing on topics related to security, agrees with Abou Zekry that the fall of Ajnad Misr’s leader will constitute a blow to the group.
He compares Ajnad Misr with the Sinai-based militant group Province of Sinai — formerly known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdes, until the group declared loyalty to the Islamic State last November and changed its name — in order to shed light on the impact that Attia’s death could have.
“It’s like comparing the Islamic State to Syria’s Nursa Front,” Raggal explains. “The Province of Sinai pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and adopted its policies. However, Ajnad Misr is affiliated with Al-Qaeda. They are trying to win people over by, for example, announcing that they halted planned bombings after they found that civilians frequented the targeted areas.”
Raggal says that Ajnad Misr doesn’t recruit a lot of members and doesn’t depend on “gang wars,” adding that such groups cannot withstand the removal of their most prominent leaders.
“For a group to withstand this kind of attack, it has to be backed by a powerful body,” he asserts, “but that isn’t the case here.”