Egypt’s interior minister announced today the arrest of three members of an al Qaeda cell who were plotting to attack a Western embassy. “The interior ministry was able to direct a qualitative blow to a terrorist cell which was planning to carry out suicide attacks against vital, important and foreign establishments,” Mohammed Ibrahim said at a press conference.
Ibrahim did not name the embassy that the trio was targeting, but he did say that they eyed targets in Cairo and Alexandria.
According to BBC News, Ibrahim “gave details about the discovery of 10kg (22lbs) of explosive material, a computer with files containing information on bomb-making and a flash memory with instructions on how to build rockets.”
Ibrahim’s surprise press conference was televised on Cairo’s Channel 1 Television. Ibrahim named the suspects as Amr Muhammad Abu-al-Ila Aqidah, Muhammad Abd-al-Hamid Himidah Salih, and Muhammad Mustafa Muhammad Ibrahim Bayyumi.
One of the three had contacted al Qaeda in Algeria, and also traveled to Iran and Pakistan for “military” training, Ibrahim said. According to a summary of Ibrahim’s television appearance obtained by The Long War Journal, Ibrahim added that the cell had online contacts with an al Qaeda member in Pakistan and a terrorist “responsible for receiving terrorists on Turkish borders.” One of their al Qaeda contacts is named Al Kurdi Dawuud al Asadi, who may be the same individual.
Ties to Nasr City Cell
Ibrahim said the al Qaeda operatives had previously taken direction from the so-called Nasr City Cell, which has numerous ties to Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) and al Qaeda.
According to Ibrahim, one of the cell’s members was ordered to contact Muhammad Jamal al Kashef (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed) and Tariq Abul Azem, a former Egyptian Army officer. Both al Kashef and Azem have significant al Qaeda ties and were imprisoned by Hosni Mubarak’s regime, only to be released in the wake of the Egyptian revolution.
Al Kashef and Azem were rearrested in Egypt late last year after authorities launched multiple raids against the Nasr City Cell. Egyptian authorities conducted their first raid against the cell in the Nasr City neighborhood of Cairo on Oct. 24, 2012.
According to multiple press accounts, al Kashef’s trainees took part in the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Some of the Benghazi attackers were trained in al Kashef’s camps in eastern Libya.
During the Nasr City Cell investigation, the Egyptian Interior Ministry discovered Al Kashef’s correspondence with al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri. Some of al Kashef’s letters to Zawahiri have been published by the Egyptian press. [See LWJ report, Communications with Ayman al Zawahiri highlighted in ‘Nasr City cell’ case.]
The first letter published by the press from al Kashef to Zawahiri was written in late 2011 and the second is dated Aug. 18, 2012.
Al Kashef is extremely deferential to Zawahiri in the letters, in which he requests further assistance for his operations and says he received funding from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Al Kashef also writes that he served as part of Zawahiri’s security detail in the 1990s and trained AQAP’s top leaders.
Al Kashef’s letters also read like a current status report, in which he summarizes his operations stretching from the Sinai to North Africa and Mali.
Ibrahim said that the al Qaeda cell now under arrest had contacted one of al Kashef’s colleagues in the Sinai.
In his letters to Zawahiri, al Kashef outlines his efforts in the Sinai. Al Kashef explains that he has worked to “recruit elements who are not known in Egypt to form groups in Sinai, the next confrontation arena with the Jews and the Americans.” Al Kashef also writes that he has “form[ed] groups for us inside Sinai.”
Cairo’s Al Yawm al Sabi, which published one al Kashef’s letters to Zawahiri, reported that Egyptian authorities consider al Kashef an al Qaeda member who managed communications between al Qaeda’s central leadership and the Nasr City Cell.