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Monday, January 24, 2011

Egyptian man confesses to role in church bombings

From Al Arabiya:
Egypt’s Interior Ministry announced Sunday that an Egyptian man helped the Palestinian Army of Islam group in the bombing of Alexandria church on New Year’s Eve.

According to a statement issued by the Egyptian Interior Ministry during the ceremony to mark Police Day, the man the group recruited is called Ahmed Lofti Ibrahim, born in 1984 in Alexandria and a graduate of the Faculty of Arts, Library Science Department.
Lotfi, who was arrested and is currently in detention, admitted in writing that he sneaked in to the Gaza Strip in 2008 after subscribing to the ideologies of al-Qaeda and deciding to take part in Jihad, or holy war, for which the group calls.

During his stay in Gaza, Ibrahim got in touch with the Palestinian Army of Islam and its members convinced him that targeting Christian and Jewish places of worship is part of the Jihad he is seeking to take part in.

After returning to Egypt, the statement added, Ibrahim stayed in contact with members of the Palestinian Army of Islam and in 2010, they asked him to watch several churches and synagogues in preparation for carrying out terrorist attacks.

In October, Ibrahim suggested to members of the group two churches next to where he lives, one of them was the Two Saints Church that was targeted on New Year’s Eve. He also suggested a synagogue, also in Alexandria and took several pictures of the Two Saints Church, which he sent to the group.

According to the statement, the group asked Ibrahim to find accommodation for members of the group who would come to Alexandria to carry out the operation and to provide them with a car.

Ibrahim, the statement said, was the one who suggested that the operation be suicidal. Then he left the country to undergo a surgery in his ear.

In December, the group contacted Ibrahim and told him the militants who were to carry out the operation were ready. The head of operations in the Palestinian Army of Islam later called him and congratulated him after the bombing took place and thanked him for the role he played.
I find this part interesting:
Hamas denied the presence of any link between al-Qaeda and resistance fighters in the Gaza Strip and called upon Egypt to provide proof of the involvement of the Palestinian Army of Islam in the Alexandria church bombing.

Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nounou told Reuters earlier that al-Qaeda has no operatives in the Gaza Strip and that all Palestinian groups only direct their attacks against Israel.

The Palestinian Army of Islam also issued a statement denying the group’s involvement in the bombing and its spokesman Abu Muthana accused the Mossad of planning the attack in a statement to AFP.
I don't think that anyone is saying that the Palestinian Army of Islam directly reports to Osama Bin laden, just that they subscribe to the same jihadist philosophy as Al Qaeda.

So why is Hamas so adamant to insist that a group, supposedly not associated with Hamas, is not aligned with Al Qaeda?

The reason can be found in the other part of Hamas' statement: "all Palestinian groups only direct their attacks against Israel." If Egypt considers Gaza a source of terror (which, of course, it already did, blaming Gaza groups for the rockets in Aqaba and other attacks) then Hamas' problems are doubled. They need to maintain relatively friendly relations with Egypt, the ability for their members to travel there, and the ability to smuggle in goods and weapons while maintaining deniability. Hamas certainly does not want the Rafah border crossing to be hostile.

But Hamas does have close ties to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which would love to see a Tunisia-type uprising in Egypt. In fact, the Hamas takeover of Gaza gave the Brotherhood hope for something similar in Egypt. The Egyptian leadership is, of course, quite sensitive to that possibility.

This being Al Arabiya, of course the idea that this is all an Israeli plot cannot be dismissed:

According to Dr. Samir Ghattas, expert on al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups, the Interior Ministry statement clarifies that the involvement the Palestinian Army of Islam is a fact and argued that the group has a presence in Egypt as well as other countries.

“The fact that the group recruited someone from Egypt means that it managed to infiltrate the country and form terrorist cells there,” he said. “The minister said Egyptian authorities have proof of that and we will know about this proof within a few days.”

Ghattas added that the group carried out this operation for other regional powers like Iran, Hamas or perhaps Israel.

“The Palestinian Army of Islam is just a tool in the hands of these powers.”