The Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades are, according to journalists and government officials, a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda
. However, they could be a hoax.
The group is named after ex-policeman Mohammed Atif (Atef), aka Abu Hafs, of Egypt who was a member of Ayman al-Zawahiri's al-Jihad al-Islami. Al-Masri means "the Egyptian" in Arabic. He was said to have helped plan the shooting of dozens of Western tourists at Luxor, Egypt in 1997. He became a relative by marriage to Osama bin Laden, but Atif was killed by American airstrikes in Afghanistan in fall of 2001. It appears that since then, some person or persons have decided to take up the cause in his name.
The group named after him claimed responsibility for the Istanbul synagogue bombings in Fall 2003, and also for the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad in Summer 2003. It also took credit for the Hotel bombing in Jakarta in 2003. They even claimed credit for the massive blackout in the Northeast US in August, 2003. They also sent an email to the newspaper again in London in March 2004, taking credit for the train attacks in Madrid, Spain. They sent a letter or emailed Western newspapers, sometimes posting messages on the web, taking the credit for each attack and promising more. Al-Quds al-Arabi received their letters and published them.
What's the problem with this picture? Well, the Turkish authorities blamed the Turkish Hizbullah for the synagogue bombings, and the forensics of the UN HQ attack point to Baathists. The Jakarta bombing was purportedly done by Jemaah Islamiya, a Southeast Asian group. The power failure was due to technical issues, as the US authorities repeatedly insist. Spain initially pointed the finger on ETA for the train bombings, a domestic terrorist group, before later arresting several Moroccoans. So it may be that the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades just likes to increase its reputation for terror attacks by claiming those of other people. Or it could be just one person with a computer and an internet connection. Another previously unknown group called Lions of Al-Mufridoon, "a Jihad group with suspected ties to Al-Qaida" also decided to claim credit for the Madrid attack, perhaps copying the widely reported "possible Al-Qaeda link."
What we know about the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades is murky at best. Do they really exist? The only certainty is that someone wants the world to associate these latest attacks with an individual once at the heart of Osama bin Laden's operations. Meanwhile, several news sources see this as a way to link every attack with Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda. Juan Cole, a professor at University of Michigan, notes that "Al-Quds al-Arabi used to be paid for by Saddam, and I don't know who pays for it now, but it might also be being used by someone to take claim for something that the Basques are actually behind."
In a communique sent to al-Quds al-Arabi: "We say to the criminal Bush and his valets among the Arabs and foreigners, in particular Britain, Italy, Australia and Japan: you will see the cars of death with your own eyes in the centre of the capital of tyranny. They will not be limited to Baghdad, Riyadh, Istanbul, Djerba, Nasiriyah, Jakarta." As a commentator pointed out, what is strange is that they forgot to mention Spain in this statement.