Secret activities are carried out to keep an organization safe from confrontations with rivals and security forces. Secrecy helps entities protect certain measures from being known in and outside their group.
Covert activity occurs when individuals create exclusive cells in which they exchange ideas that may be illegal or inconsistent with the norms of society. They gain new supporters by contacting them individually. They are subject to leadership and administrative structures that govern their work. They also avoid revealing these ideas to ensure control over the members.
Religious groups have resorted to organized secret activity, justifying this with several reasons, including:
A- Avoiding arrests and security prosecution, and providing protection for the organization’s leaders and the organization itself from the regimes that consider the organizations’ activities a threat to the state’s national security due to their adoption of radical ideas.
B- Building confidence among the members of the organization, ensuring that the members of the organization respect their leaders and obey them blindly, as well as ensuring unity and immediate summoning and response.
C- Making their supporters believe that they are distinguished from the rest of society.
D- Guaranteeing the leadership’s domination over the members, and not giving them the opportunity to discuss ideas contrary to theirs.
Types of secret activities of terrorist organizations:
Covert military activity
Military secret activity is an integral part of terrorist groups’ work. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was one of the first groups to pursue military secret activities by establishing a secret cell, or a special apparatus, in 1939, which relied mainly on armed force in achieving the group’s objectives. The idea of military secret activity came back strongly in the 1970s, especially after the emergence of the Jihad Group and Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya (the Islamic Group), which was revealed after the assassination of president Anwar Al-Sadat, when armed secret activity became an essential part of the work of extremist Islamic groups. The secret activity has impressed many groups, from the MB to the Islamic Group and Jihad, the organizations of Yehia Hashem, Mohamed Al-Borai, Saleh Seria, Shukri Mustafa, and other groups.
Clandestine economic activity
The funding of terrorist groups relies on secret economic activity via companies established in one country and transferring funds to other countries to evade monitoring. Terrorist organizations also rely on donations received under the cover of charity and cashed by associations established by the MB as a cover to receive funds abroad to transfer them to the countries where their activities take place. These organizations also rely on the donations of several loyal businessmen or those who believe in their ideas to fund their activities.
To explore the nature of the Brotherhood’s secret activity, its economic and military work are herein addressed.
First: The MB and its surreptitious economic activity
1. The group’s keen interest in providing funds since its emergence goes back to Hassan Al-Banna who said that money is the mainstay of the daawa, and that there is no daawa without its leaders and soldiers sacrificing their money. So, money was associated with the continuation of missionary work in the group’s ideology, and many experts’ estimates were reflected according to this rule from the beginning to present. Economic expert Abdel-Khalek Farouk confirmed in his book on the economies of the Brotherhood in Egypt and the world, that the resources of the Brotherhood are estimated at EGP 8 billion annually.
2. The Brotherhood and its supporters have established a so-called financing portfolio. In short, it is the establishment of commercial projects in the name of an unpopular member who does not occupy an administrative position, and through its revenues individuals or previously determined goals by the group’s leadership are funded.
3. The group does not announce the amount of its financial transactions to be out of the reach of the oversight of bodies in all countries it is present in, due to the presence of suspicious financial operations that take place in the group, which makes them strongly insist on maintaining the secrecy of their financial accounts, especially because expenditure items are related to being spent in secret activities that no one knows about, even though regulations are governing the group’s activities, expenditures, and objects of expenditure. Further below, we demonstrate the most important funding sources of the Brotherhood that are used to finance its overt and secret activities.
4. The Brotherhood relied on several sources from outside its elements to fund its secret activities. Since the inception of the movement, it used all available means to continue its activity, applying the saying “the end justifies the means”, to the extent that it relied on funding from outside parties that the Brotherhood considers hostile. This was revealed by British researcher Mark Curtis in his book “Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam”, where many documents, declassified by the British government, explain Britain’s relationship with the group. Many sources also refer to multiple relations with the intelligence agencies of several countries, especially the British and American agencies in the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, it is indicated that the group was carrying out intelligence and espionage work for the benefit of the two countries.
All of this means that the Brotherhood does not oppose any source of funding from any party to achieve its objectives through secret activity, whether to obtain funds or disburse them.
The MB’s sources of funding for covert operations
Many sources confirm that the Brotherhood runs a hidden financial network around the world that is little known about. On this scale, names of some of those responsible for funding the group have come to light, including Ibrahim Kamel, founder of Dar Al-Maal Al-Islami Trust, and its offshore companies in the Bahamas. There is also Youssef Nada, Ghalib Hemmat, and Idris Nasreddin with Akida International Bank in the Bahamas. It should be noted that some of these leaders are not only active in the Bahamas but also spread their companies in other regions, especially Western and African countries.
In this regard, several points should be noted:
A. The Brotherhood has relied mainly on the economic and commercial projects it has established in many countries, especially those that lack regulatory bodies, such as some African and Asian countries, Latin America, and through associations that provide cover for these projects.
B. The Brotherhood also depends on the donations it receives under the guise of charitable work and the International Islamic Relief. The main goal of these associations is to collect contributions and donations from members to finance the cell’s activities the world over. This is proved by the Brotherhood’s establishment of charity associations as a cover to collect funding abroad to transfer them to countries in which it practices its activities. Some sources confirmed that the MB has established 13 associations in the UK which are controlled by leaders of the group, on top of them: Essam Al-Haddad, Ibrahim Al-Zayat, and Ibrahim Mounir, as well other associations in Switzerland, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, Nigeria, and Ghana. Some reports indicate that money transfers from one country to another were carried out through travelers from these countries, and thus money is delivered hand-to-hand, to prevent monitoring the transfer of these funding through the global financial system, which confirms the use of these funds in illegal activities.
C. Charities and zakat represented an important part of funding for the group following the security clampdown. MB sheikhs issued a fatwa (religious edict) that whoever wanted to give charity or pay the zakat from their own money, the group was a priority, the money being spend in a cause for the sake of God, and that the group works for this cause, thus the group has allowed taking money from the poor and those in need for funding its activities and getting out of the impasse of security restrictions on group activities.
D. Funding secret activities of the group also depends on donations of several businessmen loyal to the MB and those who believe in its ideology, through donations from some companies operating abroad. These funds are used in their overt and secret operations by the secret cell. Brotherhood businessmen’s foreign investments are also relied on to present the Islamic model in managing projects and economics and to obtain support to help the group in its activities. The most prominent countries in which the group invests its money are Qatar, Korea, Japan, London, Switzerland, and Turkey.
Generally speaking, the Brotherhood’s financial network of holding and affiliated companies, shell banks, and other financial institutions run across many countries, most notably: Panama, Liberia, Switzerland, Cyprus, Nigeria, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Ghana, and Nigeria. Most of these institutions are registered under the names of people such as Yusuf Nada, Idris Nasreddin, and Ghalib Hemmat, who present themselves as MB leaders. It is noticeable that some of these institutions are run by individuals from countries in which the group does not have much activity, which is in line with its approach of covering up its secret activities.
Second: The MB and covert military activity:
The secret cell of the Brotherhood was known in the circles of power as the secret apparatus, and the public image of the MB was linked to this secret apparatus, which the government media portrayed as a terrifying terrorist organization, especially after the paramilitary organization of the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempt to assassinate late president Gamal Abdel-Nasser in 1954. The plan was prepared since the emergence of the group in 1928 and it was to contain individuals who approached the group regardless of their affiliation or capabilities. The main goal was to draw the largest possible number of members to the group. This apparatus is a military system established by the MB in Egypt in 1939, and its goal is “to prepare selected elite of the Muslim Brotherhood to carry out special missions, train for military operations against the external enemy and to eradicate the military literacy of the Egyptian people at that time.” The founders aimed at creating the organization to fight the British occupation in Egypt and to confront the Zionist-Jewish project in Palestine.
During the MB’s first years of creation, it set several goals, the most important of which are:
A- Fighting for the sake of Allah. This is the battles the Mujahideen carried out against Zionists in the battlefield on Palestinian land.
b- Fedaayi (risking life voluntarily) actions that were carried out by an individual or a group against the enemy (British colonialism), which were called by some as political assassinations.
c- Protecting the daawa from the attacks against it by parties and plans to eliminate it.
The relationship between Qotbism and MB clandestine operations
The Brotherhood has raised the slogan of “Hakmia” (meaning that God is the only one who can judge every single action of people as He wills), which is the literal application of the ideas of Sayed Qotb and Abul-Ela Maududi. The Hakmia adhere to the rule of the Brotherhood, believing that if they rule then it will be the rule of God, but the way to reach this goal remains the real criterion and the missing link to understanding the extent to which the MB is influenced by the ideology of Sayed Qotb. The declaration of adopting these ideas or refusing them is not reliable proof to confirm that the MB embraced jihadism or not, for three main reasons:
1. The diversity of the members of the MB and their cultures made some of them believe in these ideas, while others rejected them. Therefore, some members were completely immersed into the ideas of Qotbism, others were not. Thus, the Brotherhood witnessed many defections and disagreements concerning this ideology and its penetration into the ranks of the group at all levels, whether from leaders or ordinary members.
2. Denying the ideas of Sayed Qotb from the approach and ideology of the Brotherhood, because of their fear of the security prosecution for adopting takfiri ideas and that these radical ideas have reduced the allure of the group to include and recruit new members. This was obvious in the low rate of recruitment in the Qotbist current, which affected their presence and spread on the ground, unlike the MB and Salafists at the time, so the group is hiding its inner side which is contrary to its appearance.
3. It is possible to embrace parts of the ideas of Sayed Qotb and not all of it. Therefore, rejecting all and not the part is what is appearing before the societies in which they live, while there may be a rejection of a part and not all of the ideas. So, some leaders, including Dr. Mahmoud Ezzat, were interested in defining their relationship with the ideology of Sayed Qotb. They told the media that they cherish and respect his ideas, but they do not disbelieve the ruler, which means that they are committed to the basic line of the MB.
Regarding the relationship between Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya and the MB and the ideas of Sayed Qotb, Dr. Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh (a co-founder of the Islamic Group) emphasized in his book “A Witness to the History of Egypt’s Islamic Movement” that after joining the MB, some differences appeared concerning some religious matters between members of the two groups, especially since the group saw that the MB is not conservative enough in some issues, and those who made the atmosphere less tense between the two parties were the fundamentalist leaders of the special apparatus, who were associated with the extremist ideas of Sayed Qotb. Abul-Fotouh stressed that during this period there were two main currents in the MB: The special apparatus, and a current that follows the ideas of Hassan Al-Banna. The existence of these two currents in the MB continued until 1984, when the group decided to abandon violence and walk a path of peaceful action for reform, which is a clear evidence of the continued adoption of extremist Qotbism within the MB group since 1965.
It is clear that the role of Sayed Qotb in changing the group’s ideology cannot be overlooked. Qotb drove the group to resort to violence as a means to reach its goal. Thus, the recipient and implementer of this ideology was the group’s secret cell responsible for the use of violence to achieve the interests of the group. Violence was abandoned due to the control of the ruling regimes at that time. The MB realized the necessity of the secret cell. As a result, all information related to it became largely unavailable due to its special nature and its tasks that are based on Sayed Qotb’s ideology in using violence as a first means to achieve the goals of the MB.
Observing the nature and style of the secret activity of the MB throughout its history in Egypt, some recurring characteristics can be noted, the most important of which are:
The duality of movement between overt and covert operations at all levels (political, economic, and military).
– The opportunism to conclude interim alliances with political forces to benefit from and then bypass them in later stages.
– Welcoming the engagement in the plans of global intelligence services, creating common interests, presenting themselves as a local ally, and carrying out intelligence work for their benefit.
– The method of secret military activity throughout the history of the group’s special apparatus was based on creating sub-organizations to practice terrorist acts and later holding them responsible for violence and claiming the MB is a peaceful group. This has been repeated in recent years, from Jihad and the Islamic Group to Hasm Movement and Lewaa Al-Thawra terrorist organizations.
– Through its secret military arms, the MB has been party to all of the conflicts and crises in the region; in Libya, Yemen and Syria, and it became more involved in Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Ottoman strategy and is still betting on British and American intelligence.
All the terrorist military methods of the terrorist factions in Sinai and Syria in particular repeat the same approach of using explosive belts, explosives, and car bombs that the group has been pioneering in since it has emerged.
History has proven that whenever the Egyptian state releases detainees from the Brotherhood and offers a measure of understanding, this does not prevent the MB from the duplication of covert and overt actions at the same time.
– Recently, new stages of the Brotherhood’s secret activity have been developed, especially after the 30 June Revolution, including the establishment of what is called a “portfolio” in villages and popular neighborhoods through individuals who were previously not monitored by security teams, and the formation of small projects, through which unmonitored activities are funded (pensions for detainees’ families or funding, etc).
– Security services monitored the development of a new practice called “the organization’s transport facility,” which is the recruitment of individuals to carry out operations of transferring information or materials used in terrorist operations through various means of communication. It also monitored the funding of certain Brotherhood members working abroad (Saudi Arabia) to buy tuk-tuks in villages and popular neighborhoods to do that job. In general, the strong security strikes that were directed at the group by the Egyptian security forces, such as the killing of Mohamed Kamal, and the arrest of the mastermind who oversees the Brotherhood’s secret activities on the economic and military levels, Mahmoud Ezzat, have shaken the group’s cohesion and dealt the group’s military activities a deafening blow the repercussions of which will emerge later.