ATbar Egypts Counter terror operation “Martyr’s Right” in North Sinai

Egypts Counter terror operation “Martyr’s Right” in North Sinai

01/11/2015 | by Shay, Shaul (Dr.)  

Egypt declared a "war on terror" after the military deposed the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, in July 2013. Over the last years, an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula has gained force, and Egypt has conducted counterterrorism operations there to bring back stability and security to the country.

On September 8, 2015, Egyptian army has launched operation “Martyr's Right” - the largest and most comprehensive operation aimed at rooting out and killing militants in North Sinai. The operation is just one campaign of many launched by the government in response to the wave of terrorist attacks.[1]

The Second Field Army units, the Commandos and anti-terrorism units with the support of air force attacked the terrorist hotbeds in North Sinai. The Egyptian Navy participates in the operation to tighten the grip on the terrorists and prevent them from escaping via sea as well as to cut the supplies provided to the terrorists.

North Sinai, which borders Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, is a stronghold of Islamist militant group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, (known today as Wilayat Sinai) which pledged its allegiance to ISIS in 2014.

The Egyptian army has been battling a decade-long militant insurgency in North Sinai, which has spiked in the last two years following the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

 Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis has claimed responsibility for some of the deadliest attacks in Egypt . In October 2014, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for an attack that killed as many as 30 soldiers and in July 2015 the group mounted its largest attack on Egypt's security forces in North Sinai.

Days before  operation “Martyr's Right”, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis released a video showing attacks it had carried out on military forces.

Operation “Martyr’s Right”- phase 1:

The operation against Islamist militants, was launched on September 8, 2015, at dawn, in the towns of Rafah, Arish, and Sheikh Zuweid in the northern part of Sinai peninsula. 

The operation included the following steps:

  • The army said it has beefed up security around major government institutions and private buildings in the region as well as roads.
  • Army troops along with anti-terror police units attacked hideouts of Islamist militants, killing many terrorists and destroying vehicles and equipment used by the terrorists.
  • The military has stopped and arrested many of the North Sinai-based militant leaders and organizers of terrorist operations.
  • The Air force launched massive air strikes to repel the militants, killing tens of insurgents.
  • The security forces exercised the utmost care to save lives, public and private property in Sinai.
  • The army hailed efforts exerted by the citizens in Sinai in the anti-terror fight, saying, health, social and daily life services are guaranteed. The statement lauded unprecedented harmony of the military forces, police and the residents of Sinai to restore stability and security in the peninsula.

The Egyptian army announced the end of the first stage of the operation on September 22, 2015, after the "achievement of its primary objectives,” which reportedly included the killing of over 500 militants and destroying various “terrorist” hideouts and artillery storage facilities in North Sinai.

The operation also extended to the Bahariya Oasis in western Egypt, where the army killed 10 militants who were planning to execute terrorist and criminal acts against vital targets and foreign interests during the Eid vacation, scheduled to take place from 23 to 27 September 2015. 

Operation “Martyr’s Right”- phase 2:

The Egyptian armed forces announced on October 8, 2015, the commencement of the second phase of operation “Martyr’s Right” in North Sinai in the cities of Sheikh Zuweid, Rafah, and Arish. The second phase includes measures taken to restore stability in the wake of the military operations and the inauguration of a development phase in North Sinai. Phase two of the operation, according to a statement released by the army after the conclusion of the first phase, will “pave the road for creating suitable conditions to start development projects in Sinai.”

The second phase , includes:

  • The commencement of numerous development projects and planned execution of reconstructions in North Sinai in the cities of Sheikh Zuweid, Arish, and Rafah.
  • The armed forces announced the dispatch of a convoy loaded with medical supplies and construction materials, as well as food for the people of North Sinai.
  • The armed forces  are preparing for the construction of the new town of Rafah, which will include 1200 housing units as well as a hospital and schools.
  • The second stage of “Martyr’s Right” includes plans to build 27 water desalination plants as well as water tanks and new roads.
  • Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi announced on October 24, 2015, in the country’s official gazette that a state of emergency has been extended for a further three months in parts of North Sinai. The state of emergency will cover Al-Arish and other surrounding areas. It went into effect on October 27, 2015.                                                 The measure was first introduced in August 2013 when violent unrest gripped the country following Morsi's removal. It has since been continually extended. This year, it was extended in January, April and July 2015.[2]
  • In the framework of the second phase of the operation, an Armed Forces statement announced that it had killed 25 takfiri elements and a field hospital belonging to the takfiri groups and an underground command and control center were destroyed in North Sinai in last week of October 2015.[3]

Vilayat Sinai fighting back

On October 22, 2015, the Egyptian armed forces spokesperson announced that Egypt's army had gained full control over the North Sinai areas of Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuwaid after successful raids on "terrorist" strongholds and weapons caches.

However, Vilayat Sinai still has the ability to move around and carry out operations employing the same tactics they have traditionally used, namely planting large quantities of explosives on the side of roads used by the Armed forces and assassination of rivals of the group.

There are also the sleeping cells that are difficult to unearth due to the lack of intelligence because their members are unknown, even among their friends and families. As a result, they are only discovered in the course of security incidents.[4]

Terror attacks conducted by Vilayat Sinai after October 22, 2015:

  • On October 23, 2015, a police officer was killed and three security personnel injured when an IED (improvised explosive device) detonated, also in North Sinai.
  • On October 24, 2015, a low ranking police officer and two conscripts were killed and eight conscripts injured following the explosion of a roadside bomb targeting an armored police vehicle on the ring road of the North Sinai city of Al-Arish.[5]
  • On October 24,2015, Gunmen have shot and killed a conservative parliamentary candidate in Egypt's Sinai province. Mostafa Abdelrahman, a pharmacist, was the only Nour Party candidate running in North Sinai. He was also the general secretary of the party in the governorate. Two men on a motorcycle fired on the politician outside his home in El Arish.[6]  The interior ministry said that the goal behind the killing of Abdel-Rahman was to negatively impact the country's electoral process, especially in North Sinai governorate. Abdel-Rahman was against 'takfiri beliefs', rallying extremists against him, the statement read. No group has yet claimed responsibility for Abdel-Rahman's assassination.[7]
  • On October 29, 2015, six security personnel were injured in an explosion targeting an armored security vehicle in El-Arish. A security source said that the explosion was caused by a bomb planted to specifically target security forces in the city.[8]

Russian plane crashed in Sinai

On October 31, 2015, a Metrojet ,Kogalymavia Flight 9268, Airbus A321 - took off from the Sinai Peninsula's Sharm el-Sheikh, a popular destination for Russian tourists, and disappeared from radar screens 23 minutes after takeoff.. The Airbus 321 was at an altitude of 9,450 m when it vanished from radar screens. The wreckage of the Russian passenger jet was found in the Hassana area, south of the city of El-Arish. The Russian embassy confirmed there were no survivors.[9]

The ISIS affiliate, Vilayet Sinai , had circulated a statement on social media claiming responsibility for the crash, saying it brought down the aircraft in revenge for Russian air strikes against militants in Syria. “The soldiers of the caliphate succeeded in bringing down a Russian plane in Sinai,” its statement said.[10]

Moscow cast doubt on claims by Vilayat Sinai to have downed the Russian passenger jet that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people onboard. “This information cannot be considered accurate,” transport minister Maksim Sokolov said in comments cited by Russian news agencies.[11]

Meanwhile, Egypt has recovered the black box of the  Russian airliner that crashed in the restive Sinai Peninsula, the prime minister’s office said. Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian rescue teams to visit the site of the crash, while Egypt's prosecutor general has ordered an investigation.

Two of Europe's largest airlines , German carrier Lufthansa and Air France-KLM have decided to avoid the flying over the Sinai peninsula  for safety reasons while they wait for clarity on what caused a Russian airliner to crash in the area. [12]

The operation against the tunnels

In late September 2015, Egypt ramped up its efforts to solidify the separation of Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula.

The Egyptian army launched a military operation in the Sinai, razing homes to create a kilometer-wide buffer zone bordering the Gaza Strip, and closed the Rafah border crossing, aiming to destroy Gaza's tunnels.

In addition to pumping water into the smuggling tunnels previously used to transfer goods necessary for Gaza residents across the border, the Egyptian military also began construction on what some referred to as a "medieval moat" - a 20-metre-deep trench filled with water from the Mediterranean Sea. The moat would ensure that further tunnel construction would be impossible. The Egyptian authorities have also begun flooding its buffer zone along borders with Gaza to destroy remaining tunnels and prevent future digging.


Egypt's army latest campaign in North Sinai, operation "Martyr's Right" is the largest and most comprehensive operation aimed at rooting out and killing terrorists. Operation  “Martyr’s Right”, is described by military analysts as a qualitative leap in the military operations conducted in the Sinai since the campaign against jihadist groups began more than two years ago.[13]

During the first phase of the operation  according to the Egyptian military spokesman (stated on its official Facebook page) the military was able to combat and seize weapons and ammunition storage places and take over main roads in the area in addition to destroying large numbers of vehicles including 4WD, motor bikes and communication devices.

In ten different statements issued daily during the operation the military alleged that the forces were able to kill 535 terrorists and  578 others were arrested. In an official statement by the military it alleged that it took precautions to take care of civilians and protect them.

President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has greeted the armed forces over the advent of Eid Al-Adha. In a statement by the Presidency, Sisi said "this Eid provides a sublime value of sacrifice that all of us should cherish while serving our nation to realize security and stability for a better future for our kids."

He lauded the efforts exerted by army and police personnel to eradicate terror in Sinai. He said they sacrifice their souls to defend their nation and confront terrorism and extremism.

He hailed the achievements realized during the first stage of the operation Martyr's Right in Sinai that have largely contributed to curbing terror in Egypt. President El Sisi underlined the importance of proceeding with the second phase with the same resolve and determination of the first stage.

Nasser Al-Asi, commander of the Second Field Army, said in a press conference that  the stability is relative, but the military operations are scoring successes most of the cities of Al-Arish and Rafah now enjoy security, which had not previously been the case, and that life has begun to return to normal in North Sinai.[14]

The operation, billed to the Egyptian public as the decisive battle in the state’s ongoing campaign to tackle the country’s terrorist group.  In the press, the operation has been declared a sweeping success, and commentators have predicted that domestic terrorism will be “completely eradicated” by the 6 October, to coincide with the anniversary of what is perceived to be Egypt’s great 1973 military triumph against Israel.

In spite of the declarations of the army and optimistic reports in the Egyptian media ,the war against the Islamic terror in Sinai is not over yet and Egypt will have to deal with Islamic insurgency for long time.


[1] Avi Issacharoff,  Egypt’s ‘largest-ever’ operation in Sinai – again. The Times of Israel, September 14, 2015.

[2] Egypt extends North Sinai state of emergency for 3rd time this year, Ahram Online, October 28, 2015.

[3] Ahmed Eleiba, Stability in North Sinai, Al Ahram Weekly, Issue No.1268, 29 October, 2015.

[4] Ahmed Eleiba, Stability in North Sinai, Al Ahram Weekly, Issue No.1268, 29 October, 2015.

[5] Three security personnel killed, 8 injured in North Sinai bombing, Ahram Online, October 24, 2015.

[6]  Gunmen kill conservative candidate in Egypt's Sinai, Al Jazeera, October 24, 2015.

[7]  Extremist militants behind assassination of Nour Party candidate: Egypt's interior ministry, Ahram Online, October 26, 2015.

[8]  Six security members injured in North Sinai blast ,Ahram Online, October 29, 2015.

[9]  No survivors from Russian plane crash in Egypt, Al Jazeera, October 31, 2015.

[10]  Russia doubts ISIS claim that it shot down airliner, Al Arabiya, October 31, 2015.

[11]  Ibid.

[12]  Lufthansa, Air France suspend flying over Egypt's Sinai after crash, Ahram Online, October 31, 2015.

[13] Ahmed Eleiba, Stability in North Sinai, Al Ahram Weekly, Issue No.1268, 29 October, 2015.

[14] Ahmed Eleiba, Stability in North Sinai, Al Ahram Weekly, Issue No.1268, 29 October, 2015.