Militants at Large Since Arab Spring Complicate Anti-Terrorism Efforts
In the chaotic weeks during Egypt’s revolution, thousands of inmates escaped from jail. Untold hundreds among them were Islamist militants. Many more detained for belonging to jihadist groups have been released from detention in the 18 months since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted — and the activities of some are beginning to cause serious concern to Egyptian and Western intelligence agencies.
Muhammad Jamal Abu Ahmad, 48, was one of those released. A heavyset, bearded man, Abu Ahmad was raised in the poor and crowded Cairo suburb of Shoubra. He joined Egyptian Islamic Jihad as a young man and spent time in Afghanistan training mujahedeen and in Sudan in the 1990s — before being jailed when he returned to Egypt in 2002. He spent the next nine years in detention but appears never to have faced a trial.
Former jihadists who knew him describe him as “ultra-radical,” according to Barak Barfi of the New America Foundation, who has spoken with former senior members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad in Cairo.
Just what Abu Ahmad may be doing now goes to the heart of the dilemma facing counterterrorism agencies in the Arab world and the West: Of the thousands of Islamist militants now back in circulation in the wake of the Arab revolutions — who is taking up arms again in the cause of global jihad?
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Abu Ahmad is suspected of a role in the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on September 11. The Journal quoted a former U.S. official as saying that intelligence reports suggested some of the attackers trained at camps Abu Ahmad established in the Libyan Desert.
“Mr. Ahmad, although believed to be one of the most potent of the new militant operatives emerging from the chaos of the Arab Spring, isn’t the only one, according to Western officials,” the article continued.