What’s Behind the Wave of Terror in the Sinai


22nd November 2013 - Quoted by Vivian Salama, The Atlantic

Writing to a network of followers and potential followers around the world, the Mauritanian-born cleric Sheikh Abu al-Mundhir al-Shinqiti, one of the world's most prominent jihadi ideologues, described a religious obligation for Muslims to take up arms against the Egyptian army. "The goal of the security campaign that the tyrannical army in Egypt is directing in the Sinai is to protect Israel and its borders after jihadi groups in the Sinai became a real threat to it," the letter, dated October 17, said. "Jihad in the Sinai is a great opportunity for you to gather and unite under a pure flag, unsullied by ignorant slogans."

Hundreds of miles from Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt's tumultuous revolution, the long-neglected Sinai Peninsula has become the frontline for the military’s fight against extremism. Having operated in a quasi-lawless state there for decades, jihadi groups are now finding an opportunity to ride on the coattails of discontent following the July 3 military-backed coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the interim government’s subsequent neutering of the organization.

Many militant groups see the Islamists' fall from grace as justification for their claims that the creation of an Islamic state can only be achieved through violence, and not through the moderate political campaign waged by the Muslim Brotherhood following the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. In response, the military has launched an unapologetic crackdown in the Sinai in an effort to crush any group or individual that might challenge its authority or uphold the legitimacy of the now-defunct Morsi regime.

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If the goal is to thwart the pace of attacks alone, then the military’s counterterrorism campaign appeared, until recently, to be working. A database compiled by David Barnett at the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for the Defense for Democracies shows that there have been more than 200 attacks since July 3, with an estimated 130 people, the majority police and military personnel, dying in the violence. Monthly attacks have dropped consistently from 104 since Morsi was toppled in July to 23 attacks in October. But the numbers have climbed again in November, with nearly 30 attacks documented so far.

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Barnett noted that there is a particular tendency on the part of the current government and press to link the Muslim Brotherhood and its Gaza-based offshoot, Hamas, to militant activities in Sinai. While these connections may be exaggerated in the Egyptian media, Hamas is thought to have an agreement with Mumtaz Dughmush, the head of the Palestinian militant group Jaish al-Islam, which runs training camps in Gaza for jihadists who subsequently go to fight in Yemen, Syria, and the Sinai, among other locations.

"Egyptian media and the armed forces are doing a lot of conflating when it comes to this, unfortunately," said Barnett. “The Salafi jihadists are highly critical of the Muslim Brotherhood." It's a point al-Shinqiti's missive makes clear.

Little is known about the individuals carrying out the attacks in Sinai; Egyptian media reports often identify them simply as Islamist militants or unidentified gunmen, partially with guidance from the military, which does not publicly distinguish one group from the other. The military says it has rounded up a number of foreign nationals, mainly from the Palestinian territories, but the vast majority of those arrested in Sinai are Egyptians.

Most of the militant groups in the Sinai had established themselves before the coup against Morsi in July. Two of the most active groups in the region today are Ansar Jerusalem and al-Salafiyya al-Jihadiyya. The former is estimated to have between 700 and 1,000 members, according to Barnett, and has carried out several high-profile attacks beyond its home base in northern Sinai. Last month, for example, the group claimed responsibility for a car bombing in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia and a suicide bombing in southern Sinai. Now, concerns are mounting that the group is gaining a foothold beyond the Sinai. In September, itclaimed responsibility for a failed assassination attempt in Cairo on Egypt’s Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who also controls the nation’s police force. While little is known about the group’s organizational structure in the Sinai, Egypt’s Interior Ministry claims that Mohamed al-Zawahiri, the brother of al-Qaeda's Egyptian-born leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, is a member.

Read the full article here.

Tags

al-qaeda, egypt, muslim-brotherhood, sinai