Egyptian authorities are worried that Islamist militants in the Sinai, who have been targeted since the August 2012 attack that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers, may soon resume attack, according to Asharq al-Awsat. The fear of an escalation reportedly comes as a result of the Egyptian army’s statements that it does not intend to stop its operations or negotiate with the militants.
Asharq al-Awsat says the suggestion by some security officials that last Friday’s attack on a police patrol, which injured seven, was carried out by “smugglers,” has been contradicted by “high-level security sources” who state that the attack surprised the police and was likely not conducted by smugglers.
“Had the exchange of fire been between security forces and smugglers, there would not have been all these injuries … and the attackers would not have been able to flee … quickly after carrying out the attack. Those who carried out the attack are militarily trained, because they succeeded in inflicting all of these injuries,” one source was quoted as saying.
Sources told Asharq al-Awsat there are fears that Sinai-based militants will attempt to show their strength in response to announcements that the army’s operations against them are continuing. According to the report, the goal for the militants, who are said to be active in Sheikh Zuwaid and Rafah, would be to show that the army’s operations since August have been unsuccessful. In addition, sources said that Egyptian authorities are also wary that the militants may try to motivate their members by carrying out attacks.
Since the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring, a number of Salafi jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda have sprouted up in the Egyptian Sinai. The terror groups have conducted attacks against the Egyptian military and policemen, Israel, international peacekeepers in the Sinai, and a pipeline transporting natural gas to Israel and Jordan.
Israeli intelligence believes that most of the attacks originating in the Sinai have been carried out by Ansar Jerusalem, also known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis. According to a recent report, Western officials estimate that there are at least several hundred jihadists, some of whom are from Yemen and Somalia, now operating in the Sinai.
In recent weeks, Egyptian authorities have seized a number of weapons and explosives in the Sinai believed to be destined for the Gaza Strip, including short-range rockets and antiaircraft and antitank missiles. On Jan. 7, Egyptian authorities foiled a car bomb plot in the city of Rafah, near Gaza; the intended target is still unclear.
Following the Rafah incident, Egyptian authorities issued a security alert for the Sinai as intelligence services received information about potential attacks by extremist groups in the Sinai.
On Jan. 11, an Egyptian army officer was killed by a sniper “seemingly affiliated to extremist groups” in el Arish in the Northern Sinai.