From Bulgaria to Rafah
BEHIND Salafis' hidden face, from Maghreb to Mumbai, via Egypt and El Arish, we find Saudi's hidden funds.
HUNDREDS of Palestinian Muslims gathered to pray at the Egyptian embassy in Gaza City yesterday and show solidarity with the people of Egypt, after the attack on an Egyptian police station near the border at Rafah, in Sinai, in which 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed.
Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh led Ramadan prayers, and symbolic funeral prayers for the slain officers. Afterwards senior Hamas leader Yahya al-Sinwar reiterated the party's condemnation of the attack: "In the name of all Palestinian factions and the al-Qassam Brigades we say that Palestine does not target Egyptian people or Egyptian security," he said.
Egypt closed the Gaza border "indefinitely" after the Sinai attack. Rafah crossing, where the borders of Egypt and Israel converge, was the only border open to residents of Gaza due to Israel's blockade. Hamas said yesterday it was shutting down the smuggling tunnels to the Egyptian Sinai, prompting Gaza residents to stockpile petrol and other scarce imported goods.
Meanwhile Egyptian forces in Sinai were reported trying to hunt down remnants of the gang who carried out the attack. Blaming Islamist extremists from Gaza and Sinai, President Mohammed Morsi branded the attackers "enemies of the nation who must be dealt with by force."
Security and military officials said at least two helicopter gunships have arrived in the border town of El-Arish to join the hunt. The attack in Rafeah took place around sunset when troops were having the traditional meal at the end of the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said that the attack raised the need for "determined Egyptian action to enforce security and prevent terror in Sinai." The attackers had seized two police vehicles which they loaded with explosives and took over the border into Israel before they were stopped. Israel said its aircraft killed between six and eight militants following the attack but the Egyptian armed forces said 35 gunmen took part in the attack, suggesting that close to 30 attackers may be on the run.
There were reports yesterday that angry border town residents were turning on Palestinians.
"Since yesterday, people in el-Arish, Sheikh Zuwaid and Rafah are forcing Palestinians to return home, and those who are caught are beaten up," said a resident of Sheikh Zuwaid, declining to be named, quoted by the Palestinian Ma'an news agency.
In Sinai, Bedouin leaders said they had been warning about armed groups active in the area.
"Military intervention came late after we warned the Egyptian authorities about extremism and terrorism in Sinai, especially after the revolution," said Sheikh Khalaf al-Maniei, from the Al-Sawarka tribe. Al-Maniei said he had witnessed jihadi groups training in the Sinai, in areas around Sheikh Zuweid in the northern Sinai and Wadi al-Amro in the center of the peninsula.
Over 1,500 armed militia members have been training there since the revolution ended, he said, adding that the groups seemed to be made up of international members. "We warned the Egyptian army as jihadi groups have heavy weapons, and have been training intensively, but nobody listened," al-Maniei added.
Calls are being made in Egypt for restrictions on its military presence in Sinai , under the treaty with Israel, to be reviewed, and there are suggestions in Israel that the Israeli government might agree.
Bedouin are worried that military measures to fight "terrorism and lawlessness" in the Sinai may hit them. "It’s better if they tell us their security plans," al Maniei said, adding that if army raids target Bedouin tents indiscriminately it could cause a problem for the army.
A deputy from the al-Fawakhreyeh tribe, Abed al-Hamid Salmi, told Ma'an's correspondent that Sinai tribes had met Egyptian intelligence officials on Monday. "We know that there are Israeli plans to re-occupy parts of the Sinai as Israeli authorities seek to protect its state from terrorism," Salmi said.
While the Egyptian government and forces were hunting down the perpetrators of Sunday's attack, a Muslim Brotherhood website in Egypt pointed the finger of accusation against Israel's Mossad intelligence service as being behind it.
Iranian authorities have issued a similar statement suggesting Mossad was behind the bomb attack last month on an Israeli tourist bus in Bulgaria, which Israeli prime minister Netanyahu blamed on Iran. Bulgarian police are still investigating the bombing, and Netanyahu is reportedly angry with them for not blaming the Iranians straightaway. The Iranian statement says Israel has a history of terror, and it would not be the first time its agents were prepared to sacrifice their fellow-citizens or other innocent Jews.
While, to those aware of the history, such accusations may not be entirely far fetched, more feasible explanations may be to hand. As we have pointed out before there are interests in the Middle East and outside who are in a position to assist and influence the jihadis and salafits, and who might consider an escalation of tensions towards war all part of their plan, especially so long as Netanyahu blames Iran.
The Muslim Brotherhood, trying to stabilise its new found place in government in Egypt, probably knows this, but would sooner not say. Both the Brotherhood and the Salafis in Egypt were seen as in receipt of Saudi funds.
Meanwhile in Gaza senior Hamas official Ahmad Yousef, urged the Hamas-led government to closely monitor all activities of Salafist Islamic groups in order to prevent Israel from infiltrating them through its collaborators. He added that such an infiltration pushes these groups to carry out attacks similar to the deadly attack against Egyptian soldiers in Sinai Sunday leading to the death of 16 soldiers.
Yousef stated that such attacks are aimed at sabotaging the relations between the Hamas movement and the newly elected Egyptian government, in addition to sabotaging the security situation in the coastal region. Yousef stated that the attack mainly aims at pushing Egypt into reconsidering its recent decision regarding easing the restrictions imposed on the Gaza Strip.
“These groups are delusional, targeting our brothers in blood and belief”, he said, “Such groups are abusing the freedom of religion in Gaza, and are recruiting unemployed youths in order to carry out such criminal attacks, therefore we must monitor these groups to protect them from any infiltration”.
He said the “ security measures in Sinai fell apart when Mubarak was removed from power” adding that there are currently less Egyptian soldiers and security officers along the border area.
He attributed the sharp increase of Salafist groups in Sinai to the large area across the border with Jordan, the Red Sea, Palestine and Saudi Arabia.
“This allowed members of these groups to infiltrate Sinai and to freely operate there”, Yousef added, “The Hamas movement has nothing to do with such attacks or groups, and always cooperated with Egypt, in addition to handing the Egyptian security forces several Salafists who infiltrated into Gaza through tunnels across the border”.
Yousef added that “a lot of these tunnels are useless, but we cannot completely shut them down as long as the Israeli siege is still imposed on the Gaza Strip”.
- In Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah condemned the attack on Egyptian border guards as a "tragic incident, " adding "I send my condolences to Egypt's president, the Egyptian army, and the families of the martyr officers and soldiers." Nasrallah said the attack had nothing to do with Islam, and could only benefit Israel, adding that there were two major threats to security and stability in the region - Israel and the "takfiri" mentality, referring to groups like the Saudi Wahabbis and Salafis who denounce all other trends they disagree with as infidels in the Arab and Islamic world.