ATbar The Islamic State in Sinai Between Corona Pandemic and Ramadan

The Islamic State in Sinai Between Corona Pandemic and Ramadan

11/05/2020 | by Shay, Shaul (Dr.)  

As Egypt grapples with the coronavirus pandemic and Muslims celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the Islamic State branch in Sinai continues its terrorist activities. On April 30, 2020, an IED explosion hit a military armored convoy in North Sinai Peninsula causing at least 10 casualties among soldiers who were participating in a campaign against extremists in the region.[1]

Military spokesman Tamer Refai did not specify the number of soldiers killed by the improvised explosive device detonated under their armored vehicle. But other officials said 10 soldiers died, including an officer, and three others suffered shrapnel wounds. The attack near the small Sinai town of Bir al-Abed occurred during Ramadan, after sundown when the faithful break their daily fast.[2]

The Islamic State said it was behind the attack in Bir al Abed. The group’s Amaq news agency said Islamic State militants targeted an Egyptian army armored vehicle in Bir al-Abd by detonating an explosive device.[3]

This was the first such attack since February 2020, when the armed forces thwarted a terrorist attack on a security checkpoint in North Sinai governorate, killing ten terrorists participating in the attack.[4]

President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi gave his condolences in a statement posted on Facebook:  "The evil forces are still attempting to take this country hostage. But thanks to God, Egyptian citizens and the strong military, [we are] steadfast with strength and faith and able to destroy the hopes of these malicious souls," said El-Sisi in a statement.[5]

The Egyptian cabinet issued a statement of condolences for the military personnel who lost their lives in the incident and wishing a speedy recovery for those injured. "The cabinet mourns Egypt's armed forces martyrs who were martyred by an explosive device in Bir El-Abed city in North Sinai governorate".[6]

The Egyptian armed forces said on May 1, 2020 that their units in North Sinai had killed two dangerous “takfiri elements” during a raid. According to the short statement, the raid took place after the military received intelligence about a terrorist cell located on a farm.                    The statement added that an automatic rifle, a wireless device and ammunition were found with the terrorists.[7]

Egypt’s police killed 18 “terrorists" in a shootout in North Sinai’s Bir al-Abed city, days after an Islamic State group claimed the terrorist attack. According to the interior ministry statement, the “terrorists" were killed after raid on a hideout in Bir al-Abed. The "terrorist elements" used the house as a staging point from which to launch hostile operations, the statement added. The ministry said it seized 13 automatic weapons, three explosive devices and two suicide belts.[8]

Bir al Abed as a theater of terror attacks

Bir Al - Abed, located approximately 80 km west of the provincial capital El-Arish, is an arena for terror attacks by the Islamic State branch in Sinai against military and civilian targets.

On March 28, 2020, an IED was activated against an Egyptian army tank in Bir al-Abed. Four soldiers were killed. [9]

On February 10, 2020, the Egyptian army killed 10 terrorists when they attempted to attack an army security post in northern Sinai. A four-wheel drive vehicle used by the terrorists was also destroyed. The standoff also killed two Egyptian officers and left five others injured. [10]

On February 2, 2020, a group of militants blew up a gas pipeline near Bir Al Abed. The terror attack occurred about a week after, the Islamic state (IS) encouraged its fighters to launch attacks against Israel as part of a “new phase” of its operations.

The militants fled the scene after the attack. No casualties have been reported but huge flames were seen rising high near the pipeline and the authorities stopped the gas distribution to extinguish the fire. The Sinai Province affiliate of IS took responsibility for the explosion. [11]

On September 28, 2019, a terrorist ambush in the town of Bir al-Abed killed seven soldiers and one civilian and injured two other soldiers.  The Islamic State claimed the attack. [12]

On November 24, 2017, at least 305 worshippers were killed while attending Friday prayers at a North Sinai mosque, in a terror attack described as one of the deadliest in Egypt’s modern history. gunmen attacked the Al-Rawdah mosque in Bir Al-Abed, which is affiliated with Sufi groups. The attack is one of the deadliest in the country in recent years. [13]      

The mosque belongs to a Sufi order – a mystical school of Islam whose followers revere saints and shrines, and practice rituals, like reciting poetry, dancing and singing as means to be closer to God.[14]

Ansar Bait al-Maqdis and IS (Wilayat Sinai)

Ansar Bait al-Maqdis (ABM), or “Supporters of Jerusalem” was formed in 2011. Egypt witnessed a significant rise in militancy, particularly in Sinai, since the military-backed ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 following mass protests against his rule. Ansar Bait al-Maqdis focused the attacks on Israeli targets, including oil pipelines running from Egypt to Israel and Egyptian security forces.

On November 10, 2014 – Ansar Bait al-Maqdis sent a delegation to IS territory in Syria to lobby for tactical and economic support. The group formally pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State and they renamed the group into Wilayat Sinai, the “Sinai Province” of the Islamic state and officially integrated into the new "Caliphate". The IS has in Sinai one of its strongest and most capable branches and since 2014 the war against the Egyptian security forces Is the top priority of the group.

The Sinai Province, has sworn allegiance to the new leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi, al-Quraishi, named by the group following the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Sinai Province has posted pictures on Telegram of around two dozen fighters standing among trees, with a caption saying they were pledging allegiance to al-Quraishi.[15]

On January 27, 2020, Abu Hamza al-Quraishi, IS’s spokesman released an audiotape with an explicit call on IS operatives in Sinai and Syria to attack Israeli targets. Speaking on behalf of the Islamic state leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi, al-Quraishi called on Islamic State fighters to launch a new phase, which is to fight the Jews and restore all that they have usurped from Muslims. "The eyes of the soldiers of the caliphate, wherever they are, are still on Jerusalem and in the coming days, God willing, you will see what harms you and what will make you forget the horrors you have seen". He called on Muslims in Palestine and worldwide to spearhead the struggle to thwart US President Trump’s Deal of the Century. [16]

Summary

Egypt witnessed a significant rise in militancy, particularly in Sinai, since the military-backed ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 following mass protests against his rule. Egypt’s army and police forces have been waging a war over the past seven years against an Islamist militant insurgency mainly in North Sinai. Hundreds of security personnel and civilians and militants have been killed in the violence.

In February 2018, the Egyptian army and police launched a nationwide operation against militants mainly concentrated in North Sinai (Comprehensive Operation Sinai 2018 - COS 18). COS 18 was the latest in a long string of counterinsurgency operations launched by the Egyptian government to fight terrorist groups in Northern Sinai. Six counterinsurgency operations were launched between 2011 and 2018: Eagle 1 (under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, SCAF), Eagle 2 (under President Mohamed Morsi), and four Martyr’s Right operations (under President El-Sisi). COS 18 is a major component of Egypt's counter-terror strategy and it will have a significant long-term impact on the terror threat in the country.

Israel and Egypt have a common strategic interest in fighting terrorism and in recent years, Israel has allowed Egypt to send extra forces into the Sinai Peninsula to fight Islamist terrorists. Under the terms of the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty, Egypt must ask Israel for authorization before sending troops into the Sinai, which is supposed to remain demilitarized.

The threats of Islamic state in Sinai should be taken seriously and both Egypt and Israel should take all the necessary measures to prevent future attacks within and from Sinai.


[1] Sinai Bomb Attack Causes at Least 10 Casualties Among Egyptian Troops, Asharq Al-Awsat, May 1, 2020.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Islamic State claims responsibility for army attack in Egypt’s Sinai, Al Monitor, May 2, 2020.

[4] Ten Egyptian soldiers ‘killed or wounded’ by IED in North Sinai: Spox, Ahram Online , April 30,2020.

[5] Egypt's Sisi mourns soldiers killed by IED in North Sinai, Ahram Online, May 1,2020.

[6] Ten Egyptian soldiers ‘killed or wounded’ by IED in North Sinai: Spox, Ahram Online , April 30,2020.

[7] Egyptian military kills two ‘takfiri elements’ in North Sinai, Ahram Online , May 1, 2020.

[8] Egypt's police kill 18 'terrorists' in North Sinai shootout, Ahram online, May 3, 2020.

[9] News 24 Facebook page, March 29, 2020.

[10] Sinai militants kill and wound seven Egyptian soldiers, the new Arab, February 10, 2020.

[11] Militants blow up Sinai gas pipeline, Asharq Al Awsat, February 3, 2020.

[12] Terrorist ambush in Egypt’s Sinai kills 7 soldiers, 1 civilian, The Times of Israel, September 28, 2019.

[13] The Al-Rawdah Mosque Massacre, Israel defense, November 26, 2017.

[14] Ibid.

 

[15] ISIS affiliate in Egypt’s Sinai swears allegiance to new ISIS leader, Al Arabiya, November 2, 2019.

[16] New IS leader threatens wave of attacks, 'focused on Israel, the new Arab, January 27, 2020.

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