Sudanese security forces recently arrested members of a terrorist cell affiliated with the Islamic State (IS).
Amid political and safety voltages in Sudan, the country’s intelligence services announced on September 28 that a raid on neighborhoods south of the capital Khartoum targeted an IS-affiliated cell, which has never claimed responsibility for an attack in the country.
During the operation, a firefight broke out, in which five members of the Sudanese intelligence service were killed. Meanwhile, 11 terrorists of different foreign nationalities were arrested, four fled but were later tracked down and arrested.
Sudan was designated as state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 by the United States. Since former Islamic President Omar al-Bashir came to power in 1959, his regime has nurtured and supported extremist Islamic groups including Al-Qaeda, the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and the Lebanese Hezbollah. Sudan hosted al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden between 1992 and 1996.
In 2020, the United States removed Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism following the overthrow of Bashir in April 2019. However, the US State Department had warned in 2018 that IS will not return to Sudan after the organization clears many of its territories in Syria. and Iraq.
in his Country Reports on Terrorism In 2018, the US State Department said that despite the absence of large-scale attacks in Sudan, it appears that IS has an active network of enablers and “extremists” linked to the group in the country.
Osman Mirghani, a Sudanese political analyst and editor-in-chief of the independent daily al-Tayar, questions whether the cell recently dismantled in Sudan is affiliated with IS. “The security services may have been hasty in pinning this to IS. It could actually be a terrorist group, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be IS,” he told Al-Monitor.
On September 29, the Al-Ressali Preaching and Fighting Movement – Wilayat Sudan claimed responsibility for the killing of members of Sudanese intelligence. This jihadist movement had also claimed responsibility for the failed assassination attempt on Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in March 2020.
This movement, which denies any links with IS, has threatened to respond to the recent raid and continue its activities in Sudan over fears that the country would witness more terrorist operations. The raid came a week after a failed coup attempt in the country, which resulted in more tension between the military and civilian politicians.
Mirghani says there is no connection between the terrorist cell’s messages and political tensions in the country. Sudanese security services, he said, “monitored the cell for a long time before going into the cell, on the orders of the prosecutor.” The conflict, he said, will continue “even as the possibility of terrorist operations increases”.
Sudanese newspapers unveiled that the cell leader, surnamed Abu Mohammed, is an Egyptian who, along with four other Egyptians in the northeastern city of Port Sudan. Mada Masr, an independent Egyptian news website, quoted anonymous security sources as saying the cell included 10 Egyptians.
The Saudi channel Al-Arabiya reported on September 30 that Cairo and Khartoum have discussed the extradition of Egyptian detainees belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. The news channel Al-Sharq also reported that an Egyptian security delegation went to the Sudanese capital after the incident to discuss the surrender of the detainees.
Among the Egyptian prisoners is Akram Abdel Badih Ahmed Mahmoud, who was sentenced to death in absentia in Egypt for the attempted bombing from the Suez Canal in 2009. Mahmoud is also a member of a cell charged with the December 2013 bombing of the Dakahlia Security Directorate, which killed 16 people. The then Egyptian government accused the Muslim Brotherhood of being behind the attack and has since identified it as one of terrorist organization and banned all his activities.
Among those arrested is Aya Hassan Abdel Salam Abu al-Saud, a student who was reportedly arrested in April 2019 and forcibly disappeared from Beni Suef, south of Cairo, but was found to have traveled to Sudan.
Hundreds of Brotherhood members fled to Sudan, Turkey and Qatar after the Egyptian army overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. An mass oppression against members of the Brotherhood, as thousands have been prosecuted on charges of terrorism.
The Egyptian government accuses the Brotherhood of ties to armed Islamic organizations in the country and of inciting and financing terrorist operations.
Ahmed Ban, an independent Egyptian researcher on Islamist groups and a former member of the Brotherhood, told Al-Monitor that some of those fleeing Egypt settled in Sudan, left the organization and formed separate terrorist groups in association with al- Qaeda or IS. Ban added: “Perhaps the cell in Khartoum fell in this context, as several local groups with the same goals and orientations came together and planned to conduct separate terrorist operations.”
On October 1, Sudan’s intelligence services denied that members of the terrorist cell had been handed over to any party, stressing that “criminals are undergoing legal proceedings.”
Ban noted that handing over members of the Brotherhood to Egypt would put pressure on the group, which is “in an existential crisis” without its former main power base in Egypt.