Morsi reaching out to radicals in Sinai
CAIRO – Egypt’s Islamist president is using former jihadists to mediate with radical Islamists in Sinai, trying to ensure a halt in militant attacks in return for a stop in a military offensive in the lawless peninsula, participants in the talks say.
The move marks a dramatic change from the iron fist policy of heavy crackdowns and waves of arrests under ousted leader Hosni Mubarak, which critics say only fueled support for militancy among Sinai’s Bedouin population by subjecting them to torture and other abuses.
But the dialogue and any possible truce could raise concerns in neighboring Israel, which has been targeted in cross-border militant attacks and has urged Egypt to stamp out the groups.
The mediation attempt shows a willingness by President Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood figure who became Egypt’s first freely elected leader, to use his Islamist credentials to deal with such groups in hopes of keeping them away from violence.
Egypt’s military launched a major military operation in the Sinai after suspected Islamic militants carried out a surprise ambush of Egyptian troops on the border with Israel and Gaza on Aug. 5, killing 16 soldiers, before driving into Israel in an apparent attempt to carry out an attack. There, they were stopped and killed by Israeli airstrikes.
Over the weekend, the first sessions of the dialogue took place between Sinai Islamists and a delegation of reformed jihadist mediators that participants and security officials in Sinai said was sent by Morsi’s office.
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