A previously unknown militant group posted on Thursday posted a video on YouTube showing two of its operatives targeting a carrier ship in the strategic Suez Canal with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).
The Furqan Brigades claimed responsibility in a statement, saying that they have advised the Muslim Brotherhood that “democracy and elections” are not the way. Islam is only established “by fighting the infidels, renegades and their allies.” It was the first such attack reported in decades.
Reuters has more details on the video:
The video carries a logo featuring a black Islamist flag and the name of the “al-Firqan Brigade”. It shows two men, dressed in civilian clothes, firing RPGs into the side of the ship, where they explode.
The ship carries the name “COSCO” on its side and appears to match pictures of the reported target of the attack, the Panamanian-registered Cosco Asia.
An army source said on Thursday that security officials were “sure that the operation was a random operation that is not backed by an [organization].
While the RPG attack had a minimal impact on the ship and canal traffic, “a major assault on the canal would hurt Egypt’s economy, which depends heavily on revenue from the 192-km (120 mile) waterway, the quickest sea route between Asia and Europe,” the report adds.
While many terrorist groups would love to sink a ship in the Suez canal, causing massive chaos in the process, maritime blogger Greg Knowler says that would require a suicide boat attack. He writes:
Hitting a giant cargo ship hard enough to sink it would require a suicide boat attack, floating mines or at least a missile or two. A small boat attack is out, as are dropping mines, and a rocket attack would mean setting up a battery on the banks of the canal.
With long, sandy stretches of wide open nothing, finding a spot would not be too difficult. But the difficulty will lie in staying undetected from spy satellites, drones and other electronic surveillance devices that make the area one of the most monitored in the world. A quick glance at Google Earth will also reveal that there are several military airfields in the Sinai Desert within easy striking distance of any Suez target.
So a terrorist attack in the Suez Canal serious enough to sink a ship and close the waterway may be an ever-present danger, but it will be extremely difficult to pull off.
A bigger threat is more likely to come from the political turmoil in Egypt. If it spills out of control, one faction or another could decide to blockade the canal to make a point or force some kind of action.
Additionally, Egypt’s interior minister narrowly escaped assassination Thursday when a car bomb tore through his convoy, wounding 22 people and leaving a major Cairo boulevard strewn with debris – the first such attack since the military ousted the country’s Islamist president.
The strike raised fears of a militant campaign of revenge for the coup and the likelihood of an even tougher hand by authorities against protesters demanding Mohammed Morsi’s return to office.
The interim president compared the attack to the insurgency waged by Islamic militants in the 1980s and 1990s against the rule of now-ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak, when militants carried out numerous assassination attempts, killing the parliament speaker. Mubarak himself survived an assassination attempt in 1994, when militants attacked his convoy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.