Egypt mourns 'martyr judge' following deadly North Sinai attack

Egypt mourns 'martyr judge' following deadly North Sinai attack
5 min read
26 November, 2015
Judge Omar Hammad, who was killed in a North Sinai attack on Tuesday, has been dubbed a "martyr" as Egyptian people and public figures mourn his death.
Omar Hammad had established a reputation as a fair jurist [Twitter]

Several Egyptian public figures have expressed grief and mourning for judge Omar Hammad, who was among those killed in a double blast at a North Sinai hotel on Tuesday.

Human rights advocate and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali described Hammad as "one of the best judges whose reports I have read and learnt from".

Hammad had told Khaled Ali that he willingly chose to supervise the elections in North Sinai to "encourage young judges to perform their duties despite the difficult security situation".

Hammad has come to be known in local and social media as the "martyr judge".

"May the martyrs of the al-Arish massacre rest in peace," political activist and former parliamentary candidate Gamila Ismail said on Twitter. "The martyr judge and liberties advocate Omar Hammad and his colleagues chose Sinai willingly."

He had integrity, selflessness, and the courage to face the authorities.

- Hossam Bahgat

During his career, which began after graduating from the faculty of law in Assiut University in 1999, Judge Hammad was known for being a leading advocate of rights and liberties through Egypt's administrative courts, as well as fighting corruption and challenging the laws approved by the president in the absence of the parliament.

The latest verdict issued by Hammad allowed the administrative court to appeal the president's decision to approve the anti-protest law.

Hammad was also known for his recommendations to invalidate the privatisation of public sector companies and the state-owned Sukari gold mine.

Hossam Bahgat, a prominent investigative journalist and human rights advocate, described Hammad's reports on privatisation and public funds as "extremely brave and important" in a Facebook post following the attack on Tuesday.

"I had a lot of respect for him despite our disagreements because he was the type of judge you would ask for in the case of a trial," Bahgat said.

"He had integrity, selflessness, and the courage to face the authorities."

"All assassinations are stupid, cowardly, and immoral, but they particularly hurt when they target someone you were fortunate enough to meet and respect," he added.

Condemnations

Local and international condemnations emerged throughout the day, following the attack.

Ahmed al-Ahwal, a member of Egypt's Judges' Club, said the attack in al-Arish would not hold judges back from performing their duties.

"Judges are ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the country," he said.

"We will face [terrorism] strongly and decisively, and we confirm that we follow our political leaders in their fight against it."

Egypt's Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam issued a statement condemning the attacks and offered condolences to the victims' families, saying that terrorist groups were trying to destabilise the country's security in order to disrupt the democratic process.

"Egyptians stand united in the face of violence and terrorism and will not give them the chance to achieve their despicable purposes," the statement read.

Security failure

Before the beginning of the first phase of elections in October, justice minister Ahmed al-Zend said that judges supervising the elections would be under the direct protection of security forces, adding that they would also be covered by life insurance policies.

However, after the attack, some people blamed the security forces for failing to protect the judges, citing poor performance and even deliberate negligence.

Judge Hammad was known for being a leading advocate of rights and liberties, as well as fighting corruption and challenging the laws approved by the president in the absence of the parliament

Judge Tarek Naguib, who survived the attack, confirmed the army's account of Hammad's killing, however, blaming it on "insufficient security presence".

"The car bomb used in the attack was meant to divert the attention of security forces, allowing the other suicide bomber to detonate his explosive belt inside the hotel," he said in a phone interview aired on MBC Masr TV channel.

Khaled Salah, editor-in-chief of the pro-regime Youm 7 newspaper, was particularly critical of the security failure surrounding the North Sinai attack.

"It is a disgrace how such cheap security breach could take place amid all of this high alert and tightened security measures," he said in a TV show he hosts on al-Nahar channel.

Salah also demanded an immediate and comprehensive investigation into the attack in order to reveal what went wrong and try to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

A deadly attack

The attack, which left seven judicial officials and security personnel dead and at least 12 others injured, took place a day after the end of the second phase of the parliamentary elections, which the victims were in the North Sinai city of al-Arish to supervise.

According to the military statement, security forces opened fire on a suicide bomber driving a car, causing the explosives to detonate before it reaching the hotel, killing the assailant.

Two other militants managed to escape during the first blast. One of them detonated an explosive belt in the hotel's kitchen, while another gunman went up to one of the hotel rooms and opened fire, killing Hammad.

The armed forces described the attack as a "failed and desperate attempt" to hinder the building of state institutions.

"We emphasise that [this incident] will strengthen the persistence and determination of police and the armed forces to root out terrorism in North Sinai," the statement added.

A few hours after the attack, Egypt's public prosecutor Nabil Sadek gave orders to conduct an immediate investigation.

The latest in a series of attacks

This was not the first attack targeting judges this year. In May, three judges and their driver were killed when gunmen opened fire at their vehicle on their way to attend a court session in al-Arish. The attack took place a day after a Cairo court sentenced leading Muslim Brotherhood figures to death.

In June, Egypt's public prosecutor Hisham Barakat was killed after his convoy was targeted by a car bomb as he left his home in Cairo.

Wilayat Sinai, the Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State group, later claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement circulated on social media.

Egyptian authorities have been facing a growing Islamist insurgency in North Sinai since the ousting of former president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. The governorate has since become the scene of clashes between militants and the Egyptian armed forces, which have launched an intensified counter-insurgency crackdown.