Egyptian General Who Led Counterterrorism in Sinai Assassinated in Cairo

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An Egyptian policeman gestures from an observation in the Sinai peninsula, February 10, 2016. Inset: an undated photograph of Brig. Gen. Adel Rajaei.
An Egyptian policeman gestures from an observation in the Sinai peninsula, February 10, 2016. Inset: an undated photograph of Brig. Gen. Adel Rajaei.Credit: Amir Cohen, Reuters

A senior Egyptian general was shot dead on Saturday outside his home in a Cairo suburb. The officer, Brig. Gen. Adel Rajaei, 52, had commanded Egypt's counterterrorism operations in Sinai. An Islamic group claimed responsibility for the assassination.

Rajaei headed the Egyptian army’s 9th brigade in northern Sinai, where the army has been confronting militant groups, including an affiliate of ISIS. The brigade was also working to destroy smuggling tunnels that have been built under the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip.

According to the Egyptian media, witnesses, including Rajaei's wife, say that unknown individuals ambushed the army officer at the entrance to his building in Obour City near Cairo. They opened fire as he walked toward his car, killing him instantly.

The general's wife, Samia Zain El Abedeen, said she could see the face of one of the assailants, who then fled on a motorcycle with no license plates. Abedeen is known in Egypt for her work as a military reporter and has been critical of extremist Salafi Muslim organizations as well as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Rajaei's death comes a year and a half after Egypt’s prosecutor general, Hisham Barakat, was killed in a car bombing in the capital. Barakat sustained critical wounds after a car filled with explosives targeted his convoy in a busy upscale Cairo suburb. The June 2015 attack was the first assassination attempt on a top official in Egypt in two years.

In a message on Twitter, a group that identified itself as the Revolutionary Brigade claimed responsibility for the killing. Egyptian security sources said that the group was associated with extremist Islamic organizations active in Egypt, and that the killing appeared to be revenge for Rajaei’s military role.

The assassination was the top news in Egypt on Saturday and also featured prominently on Arab social media, particularly since carrying it out required the attackers to track Rajaei’s whereabouts. A senior Egyptian national security source told Haaretz that if the killing was indeed related to Rajaei’s role in northern Sinai, it would represent a new stage in the battle between the authorities and terrorist groups in the peninsula. 

Up until now, most of the terrorist groups’ activities have been directed against police and army positions in the northern part of Sinai. The killing of such a high-ranking army officer at his home near Cairo would require the country’s security establishment to thoroughly investigate the incident. 

The killing of Rajaei came several hours before an Egyptian appeals court rejected an appeal filed by ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. The court also confirmed his 20-year prison term after he was found responsible for the deaths of demonstrators during protests in June 2012.

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