Ansar Beit al Maqdis' Terror Campaign in the Sinai

series of deadly militant attacks involving rockets, mortar attacks and car bombs targeted several military and police sites in North Sinai. Dr. Shaul Shay offers a review of Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the organization behind the attacks, and the challenge facing Egypt

A series of deadly militant attacks involving rockets, mortar attacks and car bombs targeted several military and police sites in North Sinai on January 29, 2015. At least 30 people, including civilians, were killed and 105 have been injured in the terror campaign. The Islamic State group's Egyptian affiliate, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, claimed the deadly attacks in North Sinai.

The deadly attacks came only days after Egypt had marked the fourth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution which ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The anniversary had been marked by increased tensions nationwide, while 23 people died in violent clashes with police on the day of the anniversary. A series of improvised bombs went off across the country, mainly targeting railroad tracks and electricity pylons.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) convened on January 30, 2015, to "discuss and analyze," the attacks. "The army's offensives against terrorism, aided by the police and supported by the people, will continue and intensify in the peninsula, and across the country," said army spokesman Mohamed Samir.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has cut short a visit to Ethiopia for an African Union summit, following the terror attacks in the Sinai Peninsula. El-Sisi was in Addis Ababa to attend the 24th African Union summit meeting. He returned to Cairo after attending the opening session.

The terror campaign:

Terrorists fired a barrage of rockets and set off car bombs in a series of attacks in North Sinai in some of the worst anti-government violence in months, according to security officials. The attacks that struck the provincial capital of El-Arish, the nearby town of Sheik Zuwayid and the town of Rafah bordering the Gaza Strip.

A military base, a nearby police headquarters, a residential complex for army and police officers and an army checkpoint were targeted in El-Arish in the biggest such attack since October 2014.

According to Egyptian authorities, the attacks started while soldiers were watching a soccer match Thursday night inside the Battalion 101 base in the city of el-Arish, the provincial capital of North Sinai province.

One suicide bomber disguised as a tanker-truck driver delivering water to the base blew up his vehicle after soldiers allowed him onto the grounds. Two other suicide bombers in pickup trucks then blew up their vehicles at the rear gate of the base and at an adjacent security headquarters, demolishing the gates and wall.

At the same time, insurgents in multiple locations launched mortar attacks, targeting police and army checkpoints, a police social club and a hotel for the armed forces.

Al Ahram, Egypt’s flagship state newspaper, reported that its office in El Arish had also been struck, although apparently only because it was near the security headquarters and not because it was a target.

In a separate attack, an officer was killed and another wounded when a rocket struck an army checkpoint in the town of Rafah, on the border with Gaza.

In a separate incident, a police officer was killed when struck by a bomb in the canal city of Suez. Authorities have not confirmed whether this attack is linked to the North Sinai attacks.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, a group that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), that now calls itself the Sinai Province (Wilayat Sinai), claimed responsibility for the attacks. The armed group claimed via a Twitter account that it "executed extensive, simultaneous attacks in the cities of El-Arish, Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah". The group said it was retaliating against a government crackdown on supporters of former President Mohamed Morsi.

Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis (ABM), a jihadist group based in Sinai, first emerged during the January 2011 uprising which toppled Hosni Mubarak. Based in the northern Sinai Peninsula, near the Israeli border, its operations expanded dramatically after the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. They have been targeting Egyptian police and military personnel since Morsi`s ouster in July 2013, in what they call revenge for a government crackdown on Islamists. Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis attacks that started in the Sinai Peninsula taking place in other parts of the country, including the capital. Hundreds have been killed in the violence. They have also been accused of firing rockets at targets across the border into Israel.

Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, Egypt's most dangerous Islamic terror group, has sworn allegiance to Islamic State, on November 3, 2014. A statement from ABM said that: "After entrusting God we decided to swear allegiance to the emir of the faithful Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, caliph of the Muslims in Syria and Iraq and in other countries," the statement said.

The group claimed responsibility for several attacks against police and military targets:

In February 2013, it has claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Taba (near the Israeli border) that killed two Korean tourists and their Egyptian bus driver.

Authorities in the Suez Canal said on August 31, 2013, that a “terrorist” staged an unsuccessful attack on a container ship passing through the canal in an attempt to disrupt the flow of ships through the waterway. The attempt failed completely and there was no damage to the ship or the containers it carried. Blocking the canal would have an immediate strategic effect, on global energy prices and a significant blow to the Egyptian economy and prestige.

Egypt's Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, on September 5, 2013, survived an assassination attempt when a bomb detonated near his convoy in northeast Cairo. Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, has claimed responsibility for the attempt to assassinate the interior minister.

On December 24, 2013, deadly bombings hit the Daqahliya security directorate in Mansoura, Nile Delta, killing 12 and injuring 134 in what seems to be the worst terrorist attack yet since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

The explosion has ripped through the building's side façade and damaged a number of police vehicles and parts of adjacent buildings including the state's council, a theatre and a bank. The head of Mansoura's security directorate was among the injured. Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, claimed responsibility for the attack. The bombings come one day after the group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, called on police officers and members of the army to desert their posts in the secular government’s military.

On October 17, 2014, Militants killed three policemen and injured seven others in Egypt`s North Sinai when they hit a patrol car with RPG fire. The assailants targeted the police vehicle in El-Masaeed district on a main road near Al-Arish city. None of the militant groups currently active in Sinai have yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

On October 24, 2014, a suicide car bomb killed 31 soldiers and left scores wounded at a checkpoint near El-Arish, Sinai. On the same day gunmen shot an officer dead and wounded two soldiers at another checkpoint near the town.

The Muslim Brotherhood

President El-Sissi immediately blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for coordinating the ongoing Sinai violence: "What is happening now is the price Egypt is paying for rejecting this organization," el-Sissi said before leaving Ethiopia. "Egypt is waging a war against the strongest clandestine group over the past two decades...This organization has secretive arms, secretive thoughts and secretive forums."

The Muslim Brotherhood has firmly distanced itself from the deadly violence in North Sinai. On January 30, 2015, the Brotherhood also posted a statement on its English-language website condemning violence in general. The group said its members adopt peaceful methods. Those who choose a violent path “no longer belong in the Brotherhood, and the group no longer accepts them,” the statement declared. However, these sentiments seem to contradict a statement posted to the group’s Arabic website on January 27,2015, urging its supporters to “prepare” for a new phase where “we summon all our strength and evoke the meaning of jihad.”

The Egyptian response

A security source told Al-Ahram’s Arabic website that the army have responded to the attacks by starting wide military offensives throughout North Sinai, targeting terrorist hideouts using Apache helicopters and unmanned planes.

Following the attack, the armed forces said in a statement that the violence came in response to the "successful" security campaign against militants in the restive province, without elaborating further on the number killed.

Earlier, on January 25, 2015, the cabinet decided to extend the curfew imposed on North Sinai for another three months, until the end of April 2015.The authorities imposed a limited state of emergency in selected areas of North Sinai as part of heightened counterinsurgency measures. These came in the wake of the 24 October 2014 militant attacks, which left at least 30 security personnel dead. The attacks were later claimed by ‘State of Sinai’, the Islamist insurgent group formerly known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis.

Other security measures aimed at combating the militants include the establishment of a 5km buffer zone along the Rafah-Gaza border to prevent terrorists infiltrating from the Palestinian territory and arms smuggling. There are also moves to destroy all tunnels used for smuggling weapons and infiltrating militants in and out of the restive Sinai Peninsula.

An Egyptian court ruled on January 31, 2015, to ban the armed wing of Palestine’s Hamas group and designated it a terrorist organization. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood which Egypt also listed a terrorist group in 2013.

The American response

The United States government condemned the attack in a statement Thursday expressing “sincere condolences to the victims, their families, and the government and the people of Egypt.”

“Prosperous and strong Egypt requires an environment of security and stability, and the United States remains steadfast in its support of the Egyptian government’s efforts to combat the threat of terrorism in Egypt as part of our continuing commitment to the strategic partnership between our two countries”, according to the statement.

Summary

The deadly attacks came only days after Egypt had marked the fourth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution which ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The anniversary had been marked by increased tensions nationwide, while 23 people died in violent clashes with police on the day of the anniversary.

Meanwhile, Egypt prepares for two important events in March 2015, an international economic summit is scheduled for March 13-15, and the parliamentary elections, the final step in the roadmap, will begin March 21, 2015.

Sinai-based militant group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for the attacks. The group in November 2014, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, which has seized swathes of Syria and Iraq. The deadly attacks in North Sinai suggested that Ansar Beit al-Maqdis may be following the Modus operandi of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Armed groups have regularly attacked security forces in the Sinai Peninsula since 2011, but attacks by militant groups based in North Sinai have spiked since the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, with security forces particularly targeted.

The Egyptian army said on January 30, 2015, that militant attacks won't deter the armed forces from their "holy duty of uprooting terrorism", and the Egyptian armed forces have responded by waging a military campaign throughout North Sinai, targeting terrorist hideouts using Apache helicopters and unmanned planes.

The main challenge of President El Sisi and the security forces is to return security and stability to Egypt. The last terror in North Sinai is the evident that a lot has to be done and Egypt will have to fight a long war of attrition against the radical Islamic groups.

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Photo: AP

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