An Egyptian terror group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis – or the Champions of Jerusalem – has claimed responsibility for an attack, last month, which claimed 33 lives and has vowed to carry out more suicide attacks whilst also pledging loyalty to the Islamic State. In a video message released Friday, a spokesman for the group warned “what you are seeing now is only the beginning,” and showed footage of the assault on an Egyptian army post in northern Sinai.
Following the army’s ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood from power, Egypt has been struggling to contain unrest stirred up by Islamist hardliners and the attack highlighted in the video – one of the deadliest in many years – prompted authorities to declare a state of emergency in the region.
After detonating a vehicle bomb, gunmen opened fire on soldiers and civilians who tried to escape the carnage and managed to seize military equipment and weapons, which were displayed in the video. One member of the group proclaims “good news to [Islamic State leader] al-Baghdadi; victory is coming.” Ansar Beit al-Maqdis emerged in 2011, following the ousting of Hosni Mubarak. The group is known to be based in the Sinai region and has intensified its campaign of violence over the past year. In another video, released by the group in August, its militants are shown beheading four Egyptian men accused of providing intelligence to Israel.
Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist extremist who rose to power with the aid of the Muslim Brotherhood, replaced Mubarak as Egyptian President but his oppressive leadership style also lead to a popular uprising which resulted in the army removing him from power and placing him under arrest. Since then, the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood has been greatly reduced in a heavy crackdown.
In April of this year, the US Department of State designated Ansar Beit al-Maqdis a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Shadi al-Menei, the former leader of the terror group, was killed by Egyptian security forces in May. According to a report in the Times of Israel, the group has taken to calling itself the Sinai branch of the Islamic State. Egyptian authorities also believe that the group has ties to Islamist elements in Libya.
The sparsely-populated Sinai region has become increasingly dangerous for Egyptian security forces, over the past two years and the Egyptians are working on creating a “buffer zone” between their territory and the neighboring Gaza Strip. Amid concerns over costs and mass evacuations, the Egyptian military is reported to be considering a plan to construct a canal along a stretch of the border than would prevent the construction of tunnels used for smuggling arms and men between Sinai and the Gaza Strip. In an effort to block the use of existing tunnels running beneath the Gaza-Sinai border, the Egyptian army is reported to have demolished a number of structures in and around Rafah. The Palestinian terror group Hamas, which began as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, has denied involvement in the violence in northern Sinai, insisting that it seeks peaceful relations with Egypt.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdi has come to be considered one of the most dangerous terror groups in Egypt. Its promise of more suicide attacks – along with a possible partnership with the Islamic State, has become a cause for concern in the Middle East’s most populous Muslim country.
Graham J Noble