A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, November 17, 2014

Egyptian Navy Attack: The Plot Thickens and the Mysteries Deepen

The attack last week on an Egyptian Navy vessel off the coast of Damietta has been wrapped in mystery from the start, beginning with how far offshore it was (reports range from 10 nautical miles to 70 kilometers) and who attacked it. I noted in passing late last week that some Jihadist websites were claiming that it was really an attempted mutiny, but I dismissed that, considering the source. I may have been premature, and there are a number of other reports further muddying the waters.

The Beirut-based electronic newspaper Al-Modon has published an account which it claims is the true story, (link in Arabic), to the effect that an officer of the patrol launch 6 October, Ahmad ‘Amer, with five sympathizers he had smuggled board, took command of the ship and killed the crew; when the base radioed the ship, responded that it was a vessel of the Islamic Caliphate. Another boat, 25 April, was sent to intercept, its weaponry malfunctioned, and in the end the Air Force had to intervene.

The story seems far-fetched, but an account in the respected independent newspaper Al-Masry al-Youm reports that a Russian-flagged merchant vessel had been forced into Port Said and its crew were being interrogated to determine if they were involved, and then appears to corroborate at least the involvement of  Ahmad ‘Amer. Quoting Al-Masry al-Youm's English version, Egypt Independent:
Authorities are also investigating captain Ahmed Mostafa Amer, who was driving the navy vessel on the day of the attack in lieu of his supervisor Major Mohamed al-Fujairy, who was injured a week ago in a car accident.
Security services are also attempting to identify whether the car accident was intentional or not, Amer’s relationships at the Port Said navy base, Syrians and Turks in Damietta or others who have had relations with people from the two countries of Syria and Turkey. Another 32 suspects including Egyptians and foreigners are being questioned.
Meanwhile, Damietta port authority canceled a ceremony that was scheduled to honor Major General Mostafa Amer, former chief of the port authority, and father of captain Amer. The ceremony was to be held on occasion of his retirement.
This version does not explicitly say there was a mutiny but clearly seems to imply it.

Besides the aforementioned Russian vessel, which may have merely been in the wrong place st the wrong time, of the much reported 32 persons arrested, at least 16 have now been released, apparently having merely been innocent fishermen in the area..

As Daily News Egypt columnist Amr Khalifa notes,
Close inspection of every story, scenario and possibility indicates contradictions and a healthy dose of question marks in each. Cemented in fact is, 48 hours after Sinai Province declared itself an IS follower, a particularly brazen, well organised, terrorist attack targeted the Egyptian navy. No small feat, this is nothing short of a minor disaster for a regime struggling to earn its security stripes against multiple groups who have chosen the militant route against the army. A central part of the dynamic at play involves the dearth of information, generally, doled out by the security apparatus and more specifically in this terror at sea.
Credibility in all relationships emanates from truth. In this regard, the Egyptian army is failing Egyptians. This has, in turn, left many Egyptians and Egypt watchers wondering what precisely transpired off the north eastern coast of Egypt this week. Based on the wild stories of the past three days, no one will know, with certainty, who bears responsibility for this attack until a video emerges showing excerpts and claiming responsibility. Egyptian memories are laden with horrific imagery from a Sinai Province video , released on Friday, but with little trust because of nearly zero info, it is likely the public will believe nothing less.
Meanwhile, absent official details, confusion reigns and rumors run rampant.

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