Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have both published eulogies commemorating Hammam Attiyah, an Egyptian who led Ajnad Misr (the Soldiers of Egypt) until his demise earlier this month. Ajnad Misr is a designated terrorist organization that has committed numerous attacks in Cairo and elsewhere, targeting mainly Egyptian military and security personnel.
Little is known about Attiyah (also known as Majid al Din al Masri), whose face was never shown in Ajnad Misr’s propaganda. The Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center, which is affiliated with jihadists in Egypt and Gaza, has posted the image seen above on its Twitter feed, claiming it shows Attiyah.
In a statement released on April 9, Ajnad Misr identified Attiyah as a veteran jihadist who had fought in Iraq and the Sinai. “He thundered against the Crusaders in Iraq and he fought the cursed Zionists in Sinai,” the statement read, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
Attiyah’s successor has already been appointed by the group’s shura (consultative) council. Ajnad Misr explained in its statement that a jihadist known as ‘Izz al Din al Masri now serves as its emir, or overall leader. Like Attiyah before him, there are few publicly-available details concerning ‘Izz al Din al Masri’s background.
Despite his low public profile, Attiyah was important enough in jihadist circles to receive eulogies from two of al Qaeda’s regional branches.
On April 11, two days after Ajnad Misr’s announcement of Attiyah’s death, AQAP honored the slain leader in a statement released online. AQAP’s statement was also translated by SITE.
AQAP described Attiyah as Ajnad Misr’s “general emir,” thereby recognizing his seniority in the organization. Attiyah “was killed at the hands of the apostate soldiers of” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sisi, AQAP said, but he “is neither the first martyr to fall at the hands of the criminal tyrants, nor the last in the series of those who sacrifice and exert themselves.” AQAP claimed that Attiyah “exploded with his mujahideen brothers in the land of al Kinana [Egypt] with an armed jihad and a massive revolution against the tyrant.”
Hours later, AQIM issued its own eulogy for Attiyah, praising him in similar terms.
Egypt’s interior ministry first said that Attiyah was killed in a firefight with security forces in Cairo earlier this month. According to Agence France Presse (AFP), Egyptian authorities said he had formerly been a member of Ansar Bayt al Maqdis (ABM), a Sinai-based jihadist group, but broke away to form Ajnad Misr.
In Nov. 2014, ABM merged with the Islamic State, officially becoming a “province” of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s international organization. Although Ajnad Misr and ABM have maintained friendly relations in the past, there is no indication that Ajnad Misr has followed ABM into the Islamic State’s ranks.
According to some reports, Baghdadi sent Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who helped recruit al Qaeda’s suicide pilots for the 9/11 operation, to the Sinai to win ABM’s fealty.
The Islamic State, which claims to rule over a large portion of Iraq and Syria as a “caliphate,” secured Zammar’s release from a Syrian regime prison, thereby winning the notorious al Qaeda recruiter’s loyalty. Instead of being transferred to the US for trial or for detention at Guantanamo, Zammar was rendered by authorities from Morocco to Bashar al Assad’s prisons after the 9/11 attacks.
Credible reports indicate that not all of ABM went along with the group’s decision to pledge allegiance to Baghdadi. Senior figures in ABM located in the Nile Valley, and elsewhere, remain al Qaeda loyalists. Citing Western officials “familiar with intelligence reports on the group’s internal communications,” The New York Times reported that there was a dispute between ABM’s leadership in the Nile Valley and the Sinai. While the Sinai contingent had long been in favor of allying with Baghdadi, “some of the Nile Valley leadership remains loyal to Al Qaeda in its theoretical disputes and rivalry with the Islamic State.”
It is possible, if not likely, that these same al Qaeda loyalists are associated with Ajnad Misr in some way. AQAP and AQIM’s statements celebrating Attiyah as a jihadist “martyr” are strong signals that the organization is affiliated with al Qaeda’s international network.
Ajnad Misr appears to be following al Qaeda’s guidelines for waging jihad. The group says that it deliberately avoids Muslim civilian casualties in its attacks, which are focused on Egyptian authorities.
Ajnad Misr is also trying to portray itself as a popular revolutionary cause inside Egypt, claiming its acts of terror are revenge against the Sisi government. In November of last year, for instance, Ajnad Misr claimed responsibility for an attack on Egyptian police stationed near the Helwan University in Cairo. Ajnad Misr said the bombing was retribution for the supposed oppression of pious Islamist “sisters” and others.
On Dec. 18, 2014, the US State Department designated Ajnad Misr as a terrorist organization. State said the group had “splintered” from ABM.
Ajnad Misr thanked the State Department for the “blessing” of the terrorist designation the following day.