London and Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egypt welcomed the US State Department’s decision to add the Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis group to a list of terrorist organizations on Wednesday, with a foreign ministry spokesman describing it as a step in the right direction.
Spokesman Badr Abdelati told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We are in constant contact with the United States, Britain and other countries, and we constantly keep them in the picture to show the reality and danger of terrorism. It is an international phenomenon that threatens Egypt and the international community, and it needs action at the highest levels to fight this phenomenon and dry up its financial sources.”
Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis rose to international prominence in February, when it claimed responsibility for an attack on a tourist bus in Taba, in Egypt’s unstable Sinai Peninsula, which killed four people, including three South Korean tourists. It has also claimed responsibility for a number of lethal attacks on Egyptian security forces in Sinai.
According to the US State Department, the decision to add the group to the terrorist list followed discussions between the federal government’s Departments of Justice and Treasury. The listing of the group will be followed by a ban on providing it with financial aid and entering into contracts with the group, and the freezing of any assets or property it is proven to own in the United States.
Abdelati said the Egyptian authorities were also in the process of gathering evidence that the Muslim Brotherhood was linked to recent terrorist attacks in Egypt to present to foreign governments.
But despite Cairo’s insistence that the Brotherhood was linked to groups like Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, a US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that there were no plans to add the organization to the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist groups.
He said: “We have added the Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis to the list of terror groups, but it is a separate issue from the Muslim Brotherhood group, and we have no knowledge of any links between the two groups.”
“We have expressed our concern about Egypt’s decision to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, and we expressed concern about the state of polarization in Egypt. We are prepared to help Egypt confront terrorist threats, but it is important to differentiate between political opposition and the threats to Egyptian security,” he continued.
The same official said the US did not plan on expanding military aid to Egypt as a result of the decision, but would continue to offer cooperation on anti-terrorism efforts, including border security.
Meanwhile, David Ottaway, a Middle East expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center, cast doubt on the existence of any links between Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis and the Muslim Brotherhood.
He said: “The Egyptian government tries to link the two together, but so far, enough evidence has not been found to charge former President Mohamed Mursi or the Brotherhood leaders or other officials, with links to Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, and I doubt there are any links between the two groups.”
“Despite the possibility of the defection of some extremists from the Brotherhood to the Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, there is no evidence of any relationship between the Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda organization,” he added. “There are great differences between the Egyptian criteria and the American criteria in adding a certain group to a list of terrorist organizations.”
The American move follows an announcement by the British government that its internal and external intelligence departments will investigate the nature and aims of the Muslim Brotherhood group in the UK and whether it is linked with terrorist activities abroad, including the Taba attack.
Last week, the British parliament approved government proposals to add Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, Al-Murabitoun and Ansar Al-Sharia to the list of banned groups under the Terrorism Act of 2000.
Ahmed Ghamrawi contributed reporting from London.