ISIS uprooting World War II landmines in Egypt
A long-buried haul of Nazi-era landmines in Egypt is being slowly dug up by ISIS and other jihadist groups in order to supplement their arsenals, Newsweek reports.
Up to 17 million landmines are buried in northwest Egypt, having been laid there by the German, British and Italian armies fighting each other across the Sahara.
Now, terrorist organizations are seeking out and repurposing the landmines, many of them laid by the Nazis, in order to create bombs and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
According to Fathy el-Shazly, who used to head up Egypt’s landmine clearance operations, the problem started back in 2004, when terrorists killed 34 people in Taba, a resort in the Sinai, using seven bombs containing parts from old munitions.
Since then, the phenomenon has continued to increase.
“We’ve had at least 10 reports from the military of terrorists using old mines,” el-Shazly says. “Even now, these things trouble us in different ways.”
An IED attack in March that struck an Egyptian military convoy near the red sea coast killed five soldiers, and the bomb used had explosives from an old mine.
And other countries in the region are also seeing the reappearance of World War II-era weapons. In Iraq, Kurdish Peshmerga recovered a 1942 Lee-Enfield rifle that ISIS had been using in a northern town.
A stash of over 10,000 old European guns was dug up by authorities in Mali. A video clip from Syria appears to show a rebel group using a 1940s howitzer. And Libya, awash with weapons after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, is home to a hefty stockpile of Allied and Axis weapons.
“We’ve seen several dozen British Webley revolvers previously or presently for sale, and then some Italian cavalry carbines, some Mausers, Bren guns,” N.R. Jenzen-Jones of Armament Research Services told Newsweek.
Egyptian authorities say they’re upping their mine clearance operations. Since 1981 around three million mines have been removed, and the government vows that the rest will be gone within the next three years.
Despite the havoc currently being caused by ISIS and other terrorist groups in the area, however, local Bedouin — who have historically been the prime victims of the landmines, with over 150 casualties since 2006 — are laying the blame elsewhere.
The head of the Land Mine Survivors Association in Marsa Matruh, on the northwestern coast of Egypt, holds European powers responsible for having planted the mines in the first place.
“They’re getting away from their responsibility,” Ahmed Amer says. “They can’t just come here and then go away. They must clean this up.”