Militant group Ansar al-Islam claimed responsibility on Friday for the Wahat Road attack that took place 135 km outside of Giza on October 20 and resulted in the death of 16 police personnel.
The militant group issued a statement recounting details of the initial attack, in addition to announcing the death of Emad Eddin Abdel Hamid, a former Egyptian military officer-turned-militant, in a counter strike by security forces on October 31.
“We began our jihad with the Lion’s Den operation in the Wahat al-Bahariya area on the outskirts of Cairo, and we were victorious over our enemy’s campaign,” read the group’s statement.
According to Ansar al-Islam, militants attacked a convoy consisting of three armored and five unarmored vehicles, “showering the convoy with bullets,” and destroying one of the armored vehicles with an RPG. It added that security forces personnel took cover under their vehicles as they called for aerial assistance, and that two armored vehicles fled carrying some of the convoy’s dead and wounded.
The statement mentioned the capture of an officer, Police Captain Mohamed al-Hayes, who was later rescued by security forces, and the killing of several other police personnel. The statement called on conscripts to “repent to God,” and not “let themselves be fuel for the war on Islam.”
They claimed that only one militant was “martyred” during the Wahat Road attack, but added that Abdel Hamid, a prominent member of militant group Al-Mourabitoun, was killed alongside several other group members in airstrikes carried out by the Armed Forces on October 31.
However, the Ansar al-Islam did not mention an estimate of the overall losses among security forces following the October operations, how many of their members died in the airstrikes that killed Abdel Hamid, or any details regarding Hayes’ rescue mission.
Despite the limited information provided in the group’s statement, some have drawn conclusions about the group based on what was provided.
Ahmed Farid Mawlana, a researcher on Jihadi groups, asserted that the incident “clearly bears the hallmarks of an Al-Qaeda attack,” as evidenced by the choice to spare the lives of conscripts. “If it were the Islamic State, these conscripts would have been killed. This behavior proves that we are dealing with an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group,” Mawlana told Mada Masr.
Horaas al-Sharia, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated channel that published Ansar al-Islam’s Friday statement via the Telegram messaging service is the same outlet that lauded the Wahat Road attack a day after it took place.
Mawlana added that the fact that the group eulogized Abdel Hamid, a prominent leader in the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Mourabitoun group, as hero further distances them from groups affiliated with the Islamic State.
Al-Mourabitoun, which was established in 2015 following split within militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdes after it swore allegiance to the Islamic State, is currently using the Libyan city of Derna as its center of operations.
A security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Mada Masr that the security forces’ operation last week not only succeeded in rescuing Hayes, but was “also successful in deterring plans for several terrorist operations and hindering the activity of several new cells that originated in Libya and plan to launch operations in Egypt.”
Communications between militant elements in Libya and Egypt were intercepted during the days that followed the Wahat Road attack, according to the security source. This, along with the help of reconnaissance drones, enabled security forces to determine Hayes’ location and retrieve him successfully.
The details in the statement published on Friday largely resembled those recounted in a leaked recording of a survivor of the Wahat Road attack speaking from a police hospital. The recording corroborated accounts of the RPG missile, taking refuge under police vehicles, the sparing of conscript lives and surrendering the police captain.
The Interior Ministry has denied the authenticity of the account. However, the doctor suspected of being behind the leak has been penalized, casting doubt on the authenticity of the ministry’s repudiation of the recording.
Abi Hatem Emad Eddin is one of the many aliases used by Emad Eddin Ahmed Mahmoud Abdel Hamid, a former Egyptian Armed Forces captain, who also goes by the names Mostafa, Ramzy and Hatem.
Abdel Hamid, 39, was from Alexandria’s middle-class Semouha neighborhood. Information about him available in court records and on jihadi media is scarce. However, what is known is that he had served as a captain in the Egyptian military, and was forcefully retired by presidential decree after adopting jihadi beliefs.
He was closely associated with another officer-turned-militant, Hesham Ashmawy, and both were injured in the Farafra attack in 2014 that killed at least 21 Egyptian soldiers. Afterwards, he moved to the Libyan city of Derna and seemingly disappeared, until his photograph appeared among those killed in the security operation following the Wahat Road attack.
All the available information implies that Abdel Hamid may be the second-in-command of former colleague Ashmawy, giving further credence to claims that the Wahat Road attack was unrelated to the Islamic State and was instead carried out under the auspices of Al-Qaeda.
According to court files pertaining to the third Ansar Beit al-Maqdes case, Abdel Hamid and others, among them Ashmawy, founded cells for the militant groups outside the Sinai Peninsula before the group allied with ISIS. He was, according to the court files, responsible for providing military training to members of Ansar Beit al-Maqdes.
Abdel Hamid was also accused of carrying out surveillance of former Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim’s convoy to determine its route, days before an attempt on his life in September 2013.
He also escorted the car carrying the bomb used in the attempt on the minister’s life. He communicated with the executor of the operation until the convoy reached the designated location of attack, which Abdel Hamid was meant to film but was unable to, according to the files.
*Note: This piece has been edited since it was originally published.