Letter from Nasr City cell member posted by Ansar al Sharia Egypt

Tariq Abu-al-Azm Captured 13-7-2.jpg

This image was posted on the Al Bayan Media Foundation’s Facebook page in June along with Tariq Abu-al-Azm’s letter. Al Bayan publishes Ansar al Sharia Egypt’s propaganda. The same image, along with Abu-al-Azm’s text, was posted on Mohammed al Zawahiri’s Facebook page.

A letter from Tariq Abu-al-Azm, an imprisoned member of the so-called Nasr City terrorist cell, was posted online by Ansar al Sharia Egypt on June 18. Egyptian authorities have accused the al Qaeda-linked terrorist cell of plotting attacks both inside Egypt and abroad. The cell also reportedly has ties to the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.

Abu-al-Azm was arrested during a crackdown on the cell in late October 2012. He had previously been arrested in 2002 under the Mubarak regime and accused of being a member of Jund Allah.

According to the US State Department, Jund Allah’s members were “planning attacks against US and Israeli interests” at the time of their 2002 arrest.

Abu-al-Azm is a former major in the Egyptian air force. In his recent letter from behind bars, he describes himself as a “engineer officer” who joined Jund Allah when the group was planning attacks as retribution for the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. He does not disavow these operations.

Abu-al-Azm does claim that Egyptian authorities have “completely fabricated” the case against the Nasr City cell in order to scare Muslims away from Salafi jihadists, increase their own power, and to give “America and the Jews” a pretext for pressuring (then president) Mohamed Morsi into “muzzling and restricting the jihadist Salafi movement” by imprisoning its members.

The former military man takes his allegations one step further, saying Egyptian authorities killed one member of the Nasr City cell, Karim al-Badawi, so that they could “plant the handwritten notes” of a document outlining a “battle to conquer Egypt.”

The Egyptian press has reported on the document Abu-al-Azm mentions. Egyptian investigators say it outlines the Nasr City cell’s plans for sowing dissent throughout the country and then capitalizing on the unrest.

Throughout the rest of his letter, Abu-al-Azm denounces democracy, calling it a “mirage,” and arguing that sharia law must be implemented. He criticizes the Muslim Brotherhood for doing little to enforce sharia.

While advocating jihad abroad, especially in Syria and against “Zionist-Crusader aggression” elsewhere, Abu-al-Azm writes that he and his comrades “have preferred to leave the field in this post-revolution time period to the members of the Islamic preaching current.” This is likely a reference to dawa, or proselytization. In some countries now ruled by Islamist regimes, al Qaeda-associated groups have opted for dawa instead of jihad in order to increase their ranks.

Ansar al Sharia Egypt defends Abu-Al-Azm, Nasr City cell

Abu-al-Azm’s missive from prison was disseminated by the Al Bayan Media Establishment, which publishes Ansar al Sharia Egypt’s propaganda. The letter was posted on Al Bayan’s Facebook page and the Ansar al Mujahideen web forum.

In an introduction to the letter, Ansar al Sharia Egypt denounces the arrests in the Nasr City case, saying the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s “security agencies” are responsible and are trying to make Muslims fear “the young men of the jihad movement.” For this supposed purpose, the security organs have invented “unfounded, fantastic stories” about the Nasr City cell, and so the group is publishing Abu-al-Azm’s letter to set the record straight.

Ansar al Sharia Egypt describes Abu-al-Azm as “heroic” and as being among the young Muslims who “have proven to be upright.”

Nasr City cell’s al Qaeda ties

Egyptian authorities have accused the Nasr City cell of having multiple ties to al Qaeda.

Abu-al-Azm worked for Muhammad Jamal al Kashef (a.k.a. Abu Jamal), who corresponded with al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri in 2011 and 2012. Jamal’s ties to al Qaeda date to the 1990s, when he served as part of Zawahiri’s security contingent. [See LWJ report, Communications with Ayman al Zawahiri highlighted in ‘Nasr City cell’ case.]

In his letters to Zawahiri, Jamal admits setting up training camps in the Sinai and eastern Libya, as well as operating in Mali. Jamal also explains in the letters that he received funding from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and trained AQAP’s leadership prior to his own imprisonment by the Mubarak regime. Egyptian press accounts bluntly note that Jamal “had joined al Qaeda,” while The Wall Street Journal has reported that Jamal was attempting to establish his own official al Qaeda affiliate at the time of his capture.

According to multiple press accounts, some of Jamal’s trainees in Libya took part in the Benghazi terrorist attack.

According to Al Masry Al Youm, Egyptian investigators allege that Jamal “got to know” Abu-al-Azm while the two men were in prison. The detained pair also met Karim Ahmed Essam al Azizy, “a Libyan national believed by security officials to be connected to last years attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi,” and who was killed during an Oct. 24, 2012 raid on the Nasr City cell.

Magdy Salem, a Gama’a al-Islamiya lawyer who is representing members of the Nasr City cell, told the press that Abu-al-Azm was arrested alongside Sheikh Adel Shehato.

Shehato, in turn, has been accused of founding and funding the Nasr City cell. [See LWJ report, Egypt arrests pro-al Qaeda jihadist tied to Benghazi suspect.]

Both Shehato and Jamal were senior leaders in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) terrorist group in the 1990s and served under Ayman al Zawahiri, who merged the EIJ with al Qaeda. Along with Abu-al-Azm, Shehato and Jamal were released from an Egyptian prison in 2011, after the beginning of the Egyptian revolution.

After his release from prison, Shehato was openly pro-al Qaeda and starred in jihadist videos alongside Mohammed al Zawahiri, the younger brother of al Qaeda’s emir. Clips of these videos have been used in al Qaeda’s official propaganda.

Still other members of the Nasr City cell have their own ties to al Qaeda, according to Egyptian press accounts. [See LWJ report, More al Qaeda links to Cairo terror cell reportedly found.]

Mohammed al Zawahiri defends Nasr City cell

Al Bayan posted the image above on its Facebook page and elsewhere online when announcing Abu-al-Azm’s letter. A few days later, on June 22, the same image with Abu-al-Azm’s text was posted on Mohammed al Zawahiri’s Facebook page.

The younger Zawahiri has repeatedly defended the Nasr City cell. In June, he attended the cell’s trial and also made an appearance on Al Arabiyah Television.

During his June 21 television appearance, al Zawahiri defended Sheikh Shehato, saying he has been wrongly accused of planned bombings and involvement in an al Qaeda cell, a reference to the Nasr City crew.

The younger Zawahiri added that Muhammad Jamal is a “wronged and oppressed man,” who was previously tortured in prison.

“Western intelligence services accused this very person [Jamal] of standing behind the [US] Embassy attack in Benghazi,” al Zawahiri said. The attack “brought disgrace and shame to the US intelligence service,” Zawahiri said, after former CIA Director David Petraeus’s mistress “admitted” that the US was holding Libyans at the Benghazi facility and their families simply “came to secure their release.”

Zawahiri claimed that Muhammad Jamal “was in Egypt” during the Benghazi attack, a claim he has made before in Jamal’s defense. The implication is that Jamal could not have been involved because he was supposedly out of the country at the time. However, press reports indicate that Jamal’s trainees took part in the attack, not Jamal personally. It is possible that Jamal was involved without directly taking part in the actual attack.

“Now, they have once again implicated [Jamal] in connection with this case,” Zawahiri said of the Benghazi attack.

Mohammed al Zawahiri is part of Ansar al Sharia Egypt’s circle, and has lectured at the group’s events. Other Ansar al Sharia figures, including founder Ahmed Ashush, have their own ties to the Nasr City cell. [See LWJ reports, Ansar al Sharia Egypt founder ‘honored to be an extension of al Qaeda’, and Old school jihadists linked to 9/11 Cairo protest, Benghazi suspect.]

And now these longtime Egyptian jihadists are openly defending their friends in the Nasr City case.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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1 Comment

  • mike merlo says:

    “Abu-al-Azm is a former major in the Egyptian air force.” Apprx 32 years ago Sadat was assassinated by Military personnel. Both of the aforementioned equal “wild cards” in a ‘deck’ of unknown composition. This does not bode well for Egypt’s near future. How many other “wild cards” are peppered about the Egyptian Military?
    The whole article gave me the chills. I can’t imagine the extremists holding court on the ‘sidelines’ unless this is simply a tactic of biding their time awaiting what they feel to be the right moment to begin hostilities. Awaiting a lowering of their guard on the part of the Egyptian Military & moving more ‘material & personnel into position?
    However one chooses to analyze or dissect this turn of events it feels gut wrenching. Egyptian Secret Services are probably rounding up suspects in a race against the clock. I wonder how al Qaeda’s El Supremo Ayman Al-Zawahiri plans on responding to to this Coup?


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