January 19, 2021 | Policy Brief

Treasury Sanctions Egyptian Terrorists Harbored by Turkey

January 19, 2021 | Policy Brief

Treasury Sanctions Egyptian Terrorists Harbored by Turkey

The U.S. Department of the Treasury last Thursday designated two Egyptian terrorists based in Turkey for “being leaders of HASM,” the acronym for Harakat Sawa’d Misr (Arms of Egypt Movement), which Treasury first sanctioned in 2018. The new designations – the fourth set since April 2019 targeting a Turkey-based terrorist network – expose the extent to which radical Islamists thrive in the permissive environment Ankara has cultivated.

Last Thursday, the U.S. Department of State designated HASM itself as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, stepping up sanctions against the militant organization, which State had placed on its Specially Designated Global Terrorist list in January 2018. HASM, established in 2015, first surfaced in July 2016 by claiming responsibility for the assassination of a senior police investigator in Fayoum, a town southwest of Cairo. The Egyptian government accuses HASM of being the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, whereas the State Department described it as a “violent splinter group,” some of whose leaders “were previously associated with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.”

Following a January 2017 shootout with the Egyptian police on the outskirts of Cairo, which left a police officer and a senior HASM militant dead, the organization reportedly declared a new phase, “jihad and resistance,” against the Egyptian government. Over the years, HASM claimed responsibility for the assassination of an Egyptian National Security Agency officer, a failed assassination attempt against Egypt’s former grand mufti, a car bomb that killed at least 20 people outside of a Cairo hospital, and the bombing of Myanmar’s Embassy in Egypt. One of the group’s foiled plots involved attacks during Christmas celebrations.

Alaa Ali Ali Mohammed al-Samahi and Yahya al-Sayyid Ibrahim Musa, the two HASM leaders designated last Thursday, first appeared on a list of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated terrorists the Arab quartet – Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab of Emirates – announced in November 2017. The next month, the United Kingdom designated HASM as a terrorist organization alongside Liwa al-Thawra (The Revolution Brigade), which was similarly formed, according to The New York Times, by “disaffected Brotherhood members.” HASM has never openly identified with the Muslim Brotherhood, and in December 2016, Turkey’s semi-official Anadolu News Agency reported that a Brotherhood spokesperson denied having any links to HASM.

According to the State Department, while Musa and Samahi are both based in Turkey, the latter also has an operational role and “participated in attacking planning, to include target selection, and manages aspects of the group’s finances and allocation of funds.” The Treasury designation shows that Musa has a Turkish passport, which would have facilitated his activities by providing him visa-free travel to 110 countries.

Last August, days after Turkey’s Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hosted senior Hamas leaders in Istanbul, Roey Gilad, Israel’s chargé d’affaires in Turkey, criticized Ankara for providing passports to a dozen Hamas members, which an exposé by The Telegraph first revealed. Following Erdogan’s meeting with the Hamas leaders, the State Department registered its first serious objection to such outreach, highlighting that two of the individuals in the Hamas delegation – senior military leader Saleh al-Arouri and senior political leader Ismail Haniyeh – are Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The United States has also issued a “Rewards for Justice” bounty for information leading to the arrest or capture of Arouri, who was responsible for the June 2014 kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, sparking a war between Israel and Hamas.

Besides providing passports, Turkey also aids extremists by continuing to host Muslim Brotherhood satellite television channels that incite violence, including the killing of Egyptian officials and immolation of LGBTI individuals.

Under the Biden administration, the United States should continue to pressure the Erdogan government to stop harboring, aiding, and abetting Islamist militants. Since 2019, Washington has designated numerous Turkey-based entities and individuals affiliated with a wide range of jihadist organizations, including al-Qaeda, Hamas, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, and the Islamic State, as well as HASM.

In a December 2019 conversation with The New York Times editorial board, President-elect Joe Biden called Erdogan an “autocrat” and added, “He has to pay a price.” Continuing the steady stream of designations issued over the last two years would be a good start to hold the Erdogan government accountable. The Biden administration’s likely move to pressure the Egyptian government for its human rights record should not preclude Washington from pursuing these sorts of designations, based on facts and designed to benefit the region by diminishing the influence of violent actors.

Aykan Erdemir is a former member of the Turkish parliament and senior director of the Turkey Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). For more analysis from Aykan, the Turkey Program, and CEFP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Aykan on Twitter @aykan_erdemir. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


Al Qaeda Arab Politics Egypt Iran-backed Terrorism Islamic State Israel Jihadism Palestinian Politics Sanctions and Illicit Finance Turkey