Egypt accused of 'questionable' amnesty deals with ISIS-linked suspects in Sinai

Egypt accused of 'questionable' amnesty deals with ISIS-linked suspects in Sinai
Two human rights groups have accused Egypt of cutting "questionable" pardon deals with IS-affiliated suspects in North Sinai.
3 min read
Egypt - Cairo
14 March, 2024
Hundreds of Egyptian security forces, civilians, and militants are believed to have died during Egypt's war on terror in Sinai. [Getty]

Egypt has been accused of reportedly cutting "questionable" amnesty deals with fighters belonging to the Islamic State's local franchise in the restive northeastern North Sinai province during an over a decade-long war on terror.

On Wednesday, 13 March, US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Egyptian UK-based Sinai Foundation for Human Rights jointly alleged that Egyptian authorities were making "opaque amnesty deals" with suspected members of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) affiliate in North Sinai.

According to the two groups, such pardon agreements were made without publicly specifying criteria for releasing suspects from custody.

"Evidence gathered by the two organisations and public statements by officials indicate that the authorities have granted some members of the ISIS affiliate Wilayat Sinai (Sinai Province) amnesties for laying down their arms and turning themselves in," a joint statement said, without specifying an exact number of defendants.

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An IS-linked insurgency has raged for years in Sinai, intensified after a 2013 military coup led by current president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi against his predecessor, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

"The authorities have not clarified whether they have a plan for prosecuting those suspected of serious abuses such as mass civilian killings and extrajudicial executions," the statement said.

While there is no official death toll, it is believed that hundreds of Egyptian security forces, civilians, and militants have died during attacks or counterterrorism operations in Sinai.

The two organisations further claimed that since 2020, based on media and human rights reports, "the Egyptian authorities have been encouraging members of Wilayat Sinai to surrender under security initiatives" coordinated with local tribal leaders in the province.

Joint police-army forces have for years kept North Sinai a closed military zone where independent reporting is prohibited.

"The authorities have not formally announced their amnesty strategy nor its basis in local laws. However, officials on several occasions have given statements confirming amnesties," the statement read.

The statement quoted Lieutenant-Colonel Gharib Abdel Hafez, the spokesperson for the Egyptian Armed Forces, as saying in a phone interview with Egyptian Sada al-Balad satellite TV channel that the army "treats all the elements [suspected Wilayat Sina' members] in North Sinai, who turn themselves into army checkpoints or units, in a humane way."

Abdel-Hafez added during the phone interview with Talk show host Ahmed Moussa, known for being pro-regime, that the army provides those who surrender with "housing and shelter" after "coordinating with judicial bodies to ensure they are not wanted in any cases."

"Amnesties for members of armed groups who lay down their arms should never include those who intentionally carried out grave crimes such as targeting or deliberately killing civilians," said Ahmed Salem, executive director of the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights, calling for guaranteeing that those with direct responsibility for serious crimes do not enjoy impunity.

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While Egypt has not denied or confirmed the claims of the two groups until the time of publication, a prominent Sinai-based journalist affirmed the facts reported by the two rights groups.

"Such pardons of suspected militants were actually granted, but they date back to years ago for the Egyptian armed forces have been in full control of Sinai, ending insurgency almost indefinitely for almost two years now," the journalist told The New Arab.

"The army has been busy safeguarding the borders with Gaza and Israel, securing international delegations visiting the Rafah border crossing, and monitoring the delivery of aid to Palestinians," the journalist concluded, saying that "the Israeli onslaught on Gaza has almost put an end to the infiltration of insurgence through tunnels between Sinai and Gaza."