TheAssyntReport Egypt – “Accidental” Cairo blast indicates Muslim Brotherhood-linked militants will seek to carry out bomb attack in coming months

Predictions

  • “Accidental” Cairo blast indicates Muslim Brotherhood-linked militants will seek to carry out bomb attack in coming months 
  • HASM militants will continue efforts to target security forces and likely also tourism sector
  • Extent of security crackdown will cause resentment among Islamists, contributing to radicalisation of Muslim Brotherhood members

Analysis

A blast caused when a car carrying explosives collided with three other vehicles outside the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Cairo killed at least 20 people and injured 47 others on 5 August. The vehicle had been stolen and was travelling against the flow of traffic, according to reports. The Interior Ministry later identified the driver as a member of the Movement of the Hands of Egypt (HASM), the militant youth wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. Following the incident, on 8 August, security forces carried out raids on three militant hideouts and killed 17 suspected HASM members.

The incident was the deadliest blast in the capital since Islamic State (IS) militants bombed Egypt’s main Coptic Christian cathedral in December 2016, killing 29 people. Although the high number of civilian casualties in this latest incident could indicate IS involvement, the group has not claimed responsibility. Furthermore, since HASM is known to have capabilities in the capital, having previously carried out several small bombings in Cairo, and more recently in Giza (see our 5 June Report), the Government’s claim that the incident was the work of HASM, based on its identification of the driver, is credible.

The blast appears to have been an accident, and the NCI was not the intended target. Instead, HASM was likely transporting the explosives with the intention of carrying out an attack in retribution for the death of former President Mohamed Mursi, a key Muslim Brotherhood figure who died in June while still in custody, and timed to coincide with the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, which began on 11 August. The scale of the blast, which caused extensive damage to the front of the NCI, suggests the group intended to target a building, possibly a government facility. HASM have traditionally targeted the security forces – indeed, the fact the blast caused so many civilian casualties is likely why HASM has denied any involvement – but the group has in the last year looked to broaden its targets, including carrying out attacks intended to undermine the tourism sector, such as its IED attack on a tourist bus in Giza in December (see our 2 January Report). Meanwhile, the security forces’ subsequent raids and killing of suspected HASM militants suggests the authorities are using the blast to justify their ongoing crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Separately, the Government often seeks to associate HASM with IS as a further justification for its crackdown. 

HASM will continue its efforts to carry out attacks targeting the security forces, and likely also the tourism sector, particularly later in the year as tourism picks up, in order to embarrass the Government and undermine the economy. The NCI blast suggests the group is seeking to carry out a major bomb attack, however the strength of the security forces, periodic raids to round up militants, and HASM’s limited bomb-making expertise will mean the group’s capabilities remain relatively low. Nonetheless, the extent of the security forces’ crackdown will cause resentment among Islamists, contributing towards the radicalisation of Muslim Brotherhood members, and there is therefore a strong likelihood that militant Islamists will carry out an attack in Cairo in the next six months.

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