Israeli intelligence: Sinai is the 'home of an independent jihadist network'
Israeli outlets are reporting that Israeli intelligence believes that a single network of Islamic extremists with ideological links to al Qaeda is behind a majority of the recent attacks from the Sinai. Additionally, while the Sinai was previously viewed as a 'backyard' for Gaza-based jihadist groups, the Israeli intelligence community has recently changed its assessment and now views the Sinai "as the home of an independent jihadist network."
According to Channel 10, Israeli intelligence believes that the group behind most of the attacks, including the Aug. 5 attack that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers, is Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, also known as Ansar Jerusalem. The TV report further states that while Ansar Jerusalem had previously coordinated with members of the Gaza-based Popular Resistance Committees, those relations have weakened as Ansar Jerusalem has begun to act on its own.
While Israel believes that many of the members of the group are Sinai Bedouin, the group is also said to include members from the Nile Delta region, as was the case with at least two of terrorists involved in the Sept. 21 attack in the Har Harif area that killed one Israeli soldier. The jihadist network is also reportedly recruiting in nearby Arab states, according to Haaretz.
Ansar Jerusalem has claimed credit for a number of attacks against Israel over the past year, including the attack on Sept. 21. The deadliest attack was the Aug. 18, 2011 assault on a bus traveling near the border with Egypt in Eilat, which resulted in the deaths of eight Israelis and at least seven terrorists. Three Egyptian security personnel were also accidentally killed in the crossfire. In addition, Ansar Jerusalem has taken credit for numerous rocket and mortar attacks against the Arish-Ashkelon natural gas pipeline as well as at least one rocket attack against Eilat.
On Aug. 31, 2012, Ansar Jerusalem released a statement that eulogized Ibrahim Oweida Nasser Bereikat, who was involved in the Eilat assault. Ansar Jerusalem claimed he was killed on Aug. 26 by Israel's Mossad, with the aid of Egyptian "spies," according to a translation of the statement by the SITE Intelligence Group.
For more information on al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups operating in the Egyptian Sinai, see LWJ reports, Mujahideen Shura Council calls attack in Israel a 'gift' to Zawahiri and al Qaeda 'brothers' and Ansar al Jihad swears allegiance to al Qaeda's emir; and Threat Matrix report, New jihadist group emerges in the Egyptian Sinai.
David Barnett is a research assistant at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.