Early Friday morning reports proliferated that, according to security and Bedouin sources in the Sinai, a leading member of Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, Shadi Al-Maniei, and three others had been killed in a Special Forces operation. The militant combat unit had reportedly been on its way to bomb the natural gas pipeline in the area of Al-Tawil. Yet less than 24 hours after the incident this branch of the pipeline was bombed.
Some sources suggest that Al-Maniei was killed in what was essentially a tribal feud. They suggest that his death was in retaliation for a crime committed against an elder of the Tarabin tribe to which Shadi’s Maniei clan belongs. But skepticism remains rife.
“He’s still alive,” says Ahmed Al-Soweirki of Al-Mahdiya, the home village of Al-Maniei. Al-Soweirki noted that none of Al-Maniei’s relatives had received his corpse and no one had any knowledge of the other persons killed in the incident near Jabel Al-Maghara. He added that Al-Maniei has been proclaimed dead several times, most recently in January. He has always reappeared.
It’s all contradictions,” says Sinai-based journalist Abdel Kader Al-Mubarak. “There is no proof that he was killed. Some security sources in the North Sinai governorate say that he was. Others deny this. An operation did take place in the Jebel Al-Maghara area and several people in a four-wheeled vehicle were killed. But their identities have not been confirmed. Their bodies were removed from the site immediately.”
Al-Mubarak also doubts claims Al-Maniei was killed to avenge Sheikh Al-Atrash of the Tarabin tribe. “Tribal feuds in Sinai happen and those who carry them out make no secret of any success. They proclaim it far and wide because it is a source of pride and honour. This did not occur in the case of Al-Maniei.
The Interior Ministry insists that Al-Maniei was killed during the operation, though it says the corpse has yet to be subjected to a DNA analysis.
Ibrahim Al-Maniei, Shadi’s uncle, refutes the claims. He told Al-Ahram Weekly Shadi was seen walking around Al-Mahdiya on Sunday, two days after he was reported dead.
In Sinai Shadi Al-Maniei was known as a people trafficker, engaged in smuggling Russian and African women to Tel Aviv, a lucrative business. He is also involved in arms smuggling, an activity that proliferated when militia factions began to operate in the area adjacent to Egypt’s borders with Gaza and Israel. This activity increased after the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt and Al-Qaeda elements took root in north-eastern Sinai and began to recruit tribal members connected with Israel one way or another.
Egypt’s military spokesman’s official Facebook page offered no details about the Jabel Al-Maghara incident, though a Special Forces operation that eliminated Al-Maniei would be considered a major victory in the Egyptian army’s battle against Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis and other terrorist militias in Sinai. General Abdel-Fattah Othman, Assistant Minister of Interior for Media Affairs, did confirm, in a telephone interview with the privately owned al-Hayat satellite television station, that Al-Maniei was killed in an operation carried out by Special Forces with the assistance of local tribes.
Two days after the supposed incident Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis issued a statement denying Al-Maniei’s death. It also refuted the claim that he was the “emir” of their group. The emir and other leaders were alive and well, as was Al-Maniei, the statement said. It was accompanied by a photograph of Al-Maniei reading the news of his own death — as reported by Al-Masry Al-Youm — on a laptop. Oddly, the image on screen is not from the newspaper’s official website but is a word document in which the news article had been cut and pasted four hours after it was reported in Al-Masry Al-Youm. Al-Maniei is wearing camouflage fatigues with an Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis emblem on his shoulder. He appears inside a tent with a machine gun next to him. Other militia members appear in the photo.
It is likely Al-Maniei is, indeed, alive. One credible scenario is that his militia, suspecting that one of its members was leaking information, planned an operation — the bombing of the gas pipeline — to expose and kill that member. A unit was duly dispatched to carry out that operation. It was ambushed and its members were killed. Other militia members rushed over to drag away the corpses. Afterwards they sent another team to carry out the bombing of the gas pipeline and make their “statement”. If Al-Maniei was seen walking around his village two days after his reported death, as his uncle states, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis has delivered another message: the Bedouin tribes that had been monitoring Al-Maniei’s movements had failed in their plans to take him out.
As for the portion of the Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis statement denying that Al-Maniei is their emir, this is possible. It is more likely that Al-Maniei is commander of the organisation’s military wing in Sinai, just as his cousin, Ahmed Hamdan Al-Maniei, was the military commander of the Tawhid and Jihad militia.
This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly