December 19, 2013 | Quote

Egypt’s Bedouin Tribes Caught in Sinai Crossfire

The village of al-Muqataa bears the evidence of the army’s heavy handed tactics. A shelled-out mosque, concrete houses pockmarked with bullet holes, and burnt animal huts huddle among sand dunes and olive farms a few kilometres from the borders of Gaza and Israel in the north of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

The army carried out a recent “raid and combing” operation here against Islamic militants. On November 26, Mohamed Hussein Mohareb – also know as Abou Munir – was killed by the military with his son and one other during a shootout.

He was one of the most wanted militants and the religious guide of extremist Takfiri groups in North Sinai, responsible for attacks against security forces, according to the military. The mosque in Muqataa, where he preached to hardline Islamists, had been reduced to rubble by the army several months earlier. His death came soon after a car bomb killed 10 soldiers on a bus travelling in North Sinai towards Cairo.

David Barnett, a research associate at the Washington-DC based Foundation for Defence of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism, says: “The increasing use of bombings over shootings, including remote improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers, and car bombings suggests an increased level of sophistication.”

He says security forces seem to lack a holding strategy for the villages they attack, which allows the militants to slip through their fingers. “[The security forces] show up at the village in the morning, carry out the operation and leave at night,” he says. “If militants know in advance what villages will be targeted, they just leave and don’t get arrested.”