Book review: New Egyptian study looks at risks posed by return of jihadists from Syria and Iraq

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Thursday 22 Jun 2017

Aoudat Al-Gihadiyyeen min Suryia wa Al-Iraq (The Return of the Jihadists from Syria and Iraq) by Mohammed Gomaa, Al-Ahram Center for Political & Strategic Studies, Strategic Series 2017 pp. 36.

The latest edition in the Strategic Series includes a study that was conducted last December and predicted the scenario that took place, in which terrorists from the Islamic State militant group executed attacks.

It was clear to everybody that the more ring tightens around terrorists in Syria and Iraq, the more likely that they start to flee to their original homelands. A considerable number of these terrorists who came back continue their bloody path by killing unarmed civilians.

The writer of the study asserts from the very beginning that 2017 is “the year of returnees from Syria and Iraq.”

He adds that the imminent liberation of Mosul and Raqqa will be accompanied by the return of thousands who gained fighting experience from fighting among the ranks of Al-Nusra Front and the IS group.

They will return as jihadists experienced in confronting security forced, armed with expertise in using weapons and explosives and more skilled in recruiting and training new members.

This study evaluates the danger posed by these returnees from a number of dimensions.

Firstly, it presents an approximate estimation of the numbers of Arab returnees.

Secondly, it assess the scale of probable dangers following their return, based on previous experiences when jihadist militants were forced to leave Afghanistan or Bosnia, for instance.

Thirdly, it discusses the factors that reduce the dangers, the possible measures to overcome these dangers.

Finally, it concludes by analysing the impact of policies towards the return of these fighters in different countries.

The study also discusses which country in the region is most vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

The author believes that one of the most prominent dangers posed by the returnees is the possibility of the consolidation of terrorist organisations working in Sinai and in the Western Desert, by forging stronger relationships with other jihadist groups in Gaza and Libya.

This could, he argues, lead to attempts to establish jihadist statelets on Egypt’s borders.

However, the author argues that the Egyptian army’s capability and its intensive deployment at present, particularly in Sinai, is enough to confront the existing armed organisations.

When the study discusses the expected repercussions of the militants’ return from Syria and Raqqa to Egypt, it asserts that during the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule, Brotherhood-accredited preachers encouraged young people to go to Syria for jihad.

A large number of them travelled and some have since returned and joined the Ansar Bait El-Maqdis group in Sinai and have participated in terrorist operations inside Egypt.

As for the Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt) group, it is one of the most active terrorist groups outside Sinai, and its founder fought abroad.

The author says that Egypt’s National Security Apparatus has received confirmed information concerning the return of some Brotherhood members after Mohamed Morsi’s overthrow, and he writes that they are “eager to practice what they’ve learned.”

The study also mentions that it is expected that the sectarian dimension will dominate terrorist organisations’ operations and that sectarian discourse is now the most attractive among the hard-line Islamist organisations.

A number of Islamic figures that enjoy widespread influence, such as Yusuf El-Qaradawi, have embraced the sectarian discourse to the extent that it has become the mainstream current.

Egypt has witnessed a number of incidents that involve sectarian violence throughout last year and for the first time specific organisations have claimed responsibility.

The study mentions that it is likely that a transformation has occurred in the objectives of the Islamist groups regarding sectarian attacks.

For instance, on the anniversary of 30 June 2015  armed men shot the priest of Mar Girgis Church in Arish, and in November 2015, Ansar Beit El-Maqdis beheaded Sheikh Sulaiman Abu-Harraz, one of the local Sufi figures.

The attacks even reached the capital itself in December 2016 where an explosive hit St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church, attached to St. Mark’s Cathedral.

Given the study’s findings and predictions, it is urgent that the concerned bodies consult its recommendations for dealing with these returnees; they are easy to follow and therefore their attacks can be prevented.

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