In Egypt, an Assassination Attempt on the Interior Minister

3 MINS READSep 5, 2013 | 14:13 GMT
In Egypt, an Assassination Attempt on the Interior Minister
Egyptian security forces at the scene of the bombing that targeted the country's interior minister Sept. 5.

The cell that perpetrated the Sept. 5 attempt on the life of Egyptian Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim demonstrated a level of tradecraft that suggests more attacks will be coming unless the cell is caught. Ibrahim's motorcade was the target of an attack with an improvised explosive device at approximately 10:30 a.m. local time. The attack reportedly occurred near Ibrahim's home in Cairo's eastern Nasr City, shortly after the motorcade had departed the minister's residence. Ibrahim was unharmed but 21 people were injured, including six security officers.

There have been conflicting media reports regarding the configuration of the explosive device, but the Interior Ministry said that it was attached to a motorcycle parked on the street, which appears consistent with photos of the scene. The device was not as large as some car or truck bombs, but it was sizable, perhaps containing several kilograms of high explosives, and damaged several cars and nearby shops. This means the explosive device was likely too large to have been thrown at the motorcade as some reports suggest.

Ibrahim is a long-serving member of Egypt's security establishment. He graduated from police academy in 1968 and has worked his way up through the ranks. He has worked as a police officer in many different parts of Egypt and has served in several senior Interior Ministry posts, including the minister's aide for prison affairs, the director of security for Giza and the assistant minister for economic security.

The interior minister is one of the highest-profile targets in the country, especially in light of the security crackdowns currently underway against the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadist militants operating in Sinai. As such, he is afforded a significant security detail, and those security measures appear to have saved his life in this attack.

Operating against such a well-defended target is a major challenge for a militant group. Whoever conducted this attack was able to conduct surveillance against the interior minister's protective detail in order to establish a pattern of movement and then select an attack site and time without being detected. They also had to acquire explosives, construct a viable device — not to mention one that functioned as designed — move the device to the attack site and then remain concealed until the attack occurred. All these facts indicate that whoever conducted this attack possessed a great deal of terrorist tradecraft.

No immediate claim of responsibility for the explosion has been made, but jihadists in Egypt have a history of employing explosive devices, including motorcycle bombs. These groups also possess the tradecraft required to execute such an attack. In October 1990, members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad killed the speaker of Egypt's parliament, Rifaat el-Mahgoub, in an armed assault after mistaking his vehicle for that of the Egyptian interior minister. 

In recent weeks, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood have used crude explosive devices to attack police stations and other government buildings. However, at first glance the tradecraft exhibited in this attack is beyond what we have seen in recent incidents involving Muslim Brotherhood supporters. If a certain cell of Muslim Brotherhood supporters were responsible for this attack, we have not seen it conduct attacks before and its members have obviously received terrorist training elsewhere. Such a degree of tradecraft is not self-taught this rapidly, but that will not stop those opposed to the Brotherhood from casting blame on the group and its sympathizers as crackdowns on the organization continue.

In this instance, either the explosive device was too small to breach the minister's armored vehicle or the attacker's timing was slightly off in detonating it. Regardless of what went wrong, the attackers will likely learn from this attack and apply those lessons to their next attack. Unless the cell behind this assassination attempt is caught, the level of tradecraft demonstrated suggests more attacks are likely.

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