The assassination attempt against Egypt’s former Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa was the first in 2016 to target a senior public figure, bringing back fears triggered by the killing of Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat in June 2015. Those fears are accentuated by the fact that a new group claimed responsibility for the failed attempt, and threatened more to come.
Called Hasam, Arabic for “decisiveness” or “determination,” the group said the operation aimed at “ending the military occupation of Egypt,” but was aborted upon the realization that civilians might get hurt. The group posted a photo of the assassination scene.
In July, Hasam claimed responsibility for the assassination of a police chief in the city of Fayoum. However, targeting Gomaa makes it seem like the group is taking its operations to a whole new level, raising questions about its allegiance, agenda and future plans.
Brigadier Khaled Okasha, head of the National Center for Security Studies, said Hasam pledges allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood: “The Muslim Brotherhood is Gomaa’s archenemy, and they’d like to get rid of him because of his views against them, and against political Islam and fundamentalism in general.”
Okasha said the Brotherhood is particularly active in the Cairo suburb where the attack took place: “A large number of Brotherhood members who aren’t wanted for any charges live there and get to move around freely, so the group took advantage of the fact that Gomaa prays on Friday in a mosque in this area.”
Maher Farghali, an expert in Islamist movements, said there is a lot of fluidity between the Brotherhood and smaller groups, even if they are not officially affiliated to it. “All those groups adopt the same ideologies and recruitment strategies, and they all end up cooperating with one another,” he said, adding that this makes it much harder for security forces.
The link between the Brotherhood and other militant groups, Farghali added, is seen in the way many Brotherhood members join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), since they both share “a legitimization of violence.” He said large organizations always resort to smaller ones when their members become too conspicuous or their existence becomes threatened. “This is what ISIS does; it protects its alleged state by launching operations outside its borders.”
General Mahmoud Mansour, head of the Arab Association for Strategic Studies, accused Brotherhood members and supporters in Turkey of plotting Gomaa’s assassination via Hasam. “They launch campaigns from there against Egypt, and describe Egyptians in general and Azhar scholars in particular as non-Muslims,” he said. “In order to implement their plot against Egypt, they hire mercenaries who commit such crimes on their behalf.”
Journalist Moataz al-Kashef examines the link between the attempt on Gomaa’s life and statements by Turkish Minister of Religious Affairs Mehmet Görmez about the relationship between Gomaa and U.S.-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen, who is accused of masterminding the coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“A number of observers believe that the Turkish intelligence might start getting rid of senior figures that attack the Turkish regime as a means of currying favor with Erdogan,” he wrote, noting that Görmez’s statements came at a time when Turkey is intensifying its criticism of Egypt.
Brigadier Samir Ragheb, director of the Arab Association for Development and Strategic Studies, said there are mutual interests between Turkey’s government and the Brotherhood, since they both want to undermine the Egyptian state.
“That’s why it’s possible that the Brotherhood would carry out terrorist operations in Egypt in order to underscore those interests,” he said, adding that Hasam is an imaginary name for Brotherhood agents. “All militant groups that attack the Egyptian state are offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Journalist Alaa Azmi said Hasam is made up of fleeing Brotherhood members and Salafists, who share a common goal of assassinating Egyptian officials and senior figures. “However, it is obvious that they are amateurs and that the attempt failed as a result of their lack of training, which makes theories about the involvement of ISIS extremely unlikely,” he wrote.
Azmi said the timing of the operation against Gomaa is further proof of the Brotherhood’s involvement. “August 14 is the third anniversary of the dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in and this is usually a time when the Brotherhood intensifies its threats and/or attacks against the Egyptian regime or figures that support it like Ali Gomaa.”
Egypt’s Culture Minister Helmi al-Namnam said Hasam is only a name that hides the truth behind the assassination attempt: “At the end of the day, the mother organization is the same,” he wrote. “They just use such names in order to embellish their image in front of Europe and the United States.”
Namnam said the assassination attempt is not new to the Brotherhood. “They have before abducted and killed Sheikh Mohamed Hussein al-Zahabi because he criticized them,” he said, referring to the former minister of Islamic endowments, who was assassinated in 1977. Namnam said the same applied to Barakat, writer Farag Fouda and Judge Ahmed al-Khazindar.SHOW MORE