ISIS is digging up landmines left behind by the German army in World War II, giving new life to the aging munitions that number in the tens of millions.
According to the Newsweek, the landmines being recovered in Egypt are largely left over from the battle of El Alamein, where the British 8th Army and Erwin Rommel’s legendary Afrika Korps went head-to-head in 1942- though over 17.5 million mines were planted between 1940 and 1943.
Home of over 20% of planted land mines in the world (estimated at around 23 million in total), Egypt is a prime location for Islamic extremists to dig up the mines, reusing them in original purpose or using the materials to make more potent Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
Egyptian military and civilian officials in Cairo report that ISIS and their affiliates have already begun digging up the old mines.
“We’ve had at least 10 reports from the military of terrorists using old mines,” said Fathy el-Shazly, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia. “Even now, these things trouble us in different ways.”
The digging for explosive Nazi gold allegedly began around 2004, when extremists used old landmines to create the seven bombs that killed 34 people in the Sinai Taba resort attack.
Earlier this March, a group of jihadis attacked an Egyptian convoy using explosives recovered from landmines, resulting in the death of five Egyptian soldiers.
While stockpiles of long-lost World War II-era arms have been turning up all over the region currently held in dispute by ISIS (including 1940s era rifles and equipment), the mines in Egypt have proven particularly troublesome. Due to the nature of the vast desert landscape, many of the heavily-mined areas -even ones held by Egyptian military forces- prove to be a an uncontested treasure trove that is easily accessible and hard to enforce. ISIS troops filtering in from an uncontrollable Libyan border are generally unafraid of skirmishing with the Egyptians and seem to casually scour the desert like treasure hunting enthusiasts at the beach.
“It’s become a refuge for them,” Shazly said.
Since the 1980s, the Egyptian government has been consistently clearing around 600,000 acres of areas that were formerly occupied by mines, though the current ISIS threat has accelerated the process. Egypt’s government says that the rest of the mines will be removed in the next three years.
However, these promises seem to ring hollow in an area where terrorism seems to come and go as it collectively pleases- foreign oil workers and tourists are regularly kidnapped and/or killed, while ISIS fearlessly attacks the Egyptian military on their own soil. In addition, the Egyptians seem to have an often reckless approach to clearing their homeland of terror. In 2015, eight Mexican tourists killed after being engaged by an Egyptian AH-64 Apache gunship that mistook them for jihadis.
ISIS aside, many of the Bedouin tribes in the area are eager to have the mines removed and blame the original owners of the munitions for the hidden mayhem the spring upon the nomadic peoples.
“They’re [the Europeans who planted the mines] getting away from their responsibility,” says Landmine Survivors Association in Marsa Matruh head Ahmed Amer, who lobbies for landmine victims. “They can’t just come here and then go away. They must clean this up.”
Until then, the unforgiving North African desert continues to conceal its deadly, cursed treasures.
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