Hours after eight policemen were killed in Helwan on Sunday morning, two different militant groups claimed responsibility for the attack: the Popular Resistance and the Islamic State. A third narrative also emerged, claiming that the attack was criminal and not politically motivated, and came after a fight between residents of an area called Arab Abu Sa’ed and officers at the Helwan Police Station two days ago.
The Islamic State claimed in a statement that the attack was carried out to avenge women imprisoned by the state.
Meanwhile, a statement by the Popular Resistance detailed the attack and included names of the victims, as well as a picture of one of them.
The movement had announced in a post on its Facebook page, which was later taken down, that its members targeted a microbus transporting plainclothes policemen, killing a police officer and seven low-ranking policemen. The group had ambushed the microbus after it received information about its route, the statement added.
The group said it carried out the attack to mark 1,000 days of the violent dispersal of Rabea al-Adaweya Square in August 2013, when security forces killed hundreds of pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters. The sit-in dispersal represented a turning point for many young Islamists, who turned to violence in its aftermath.
The attack came two days after the movement announced that it foiled an attempt to infiltrate it, maintaining that “the Popular Resistance’s work continues.”
It also came after a hiatus by some militant groups, resulting in a drop in the number of attacks in Egypt outside of Sinai in recent months. According to the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy’s (TIMEP) Egypt Security Watch Quarterly Report, the last quarter of 2015 saw a significant decrease in reported terrorist attacks, terrorist group activity and counterterrorism operations. The report attributed the decline to the absence of activity from groups such as the Popular Resistance.
The Popular Resistance first appeared on January 25, 2014, the revolution’s third anniversary, on Facebook. In August 2014, on the first anniversatry of the dispersal of the Rabea sit-in, it issued a statement announcing the coalition of several groups against military rule in Cairo.
On January 24, 2015, five groups announced their alliance: Popular Resistance, Determination, Revolutionary Punishment, the Movement for Revolution in Beni Suef and the Execution Movement.
According to a former young leader in the group, who previously spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, the movement was launched based on the support of three main leaders within the Muslim Brotherhood who advocate violence. They had highlighted the importance of resorting to violence as a strategic option for the group.
TIMEP said that since the group’s first public statement was spread through media associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, it drew links between the founders and the Brotherhood youth.
The stance on violence was the main contention between groups within the Muslim Brotherhood, which lead to the division of the organization into two main branches at the end of last year.
Since its inception, the Popular Resistance has carried out around 90 attacks across Egypt’s governorates. Most of the attacks involved shooting police officers.
The main difference between the Popular Resistance and the Islamic State lies in their rhetoric. According to TIMEP’s report, while the Islamic State adopts a purely Islamist ideology, the Popular Resistance leans more towards “revolutionary goals,” with no religious inclination.
In the absence of any political centralization that brings together disillusioned youth, especially with the crumbling of the Muslim Brotherhood, the emergence of semi-autonomous militant groups among Islamist youth is a phenomenon that is likely to continue, despite the ongoing crackdown by security forces.