Ramzi Mowafi. Image from Al Arabiya.
Egyptian security forces have reportedly arrested a number of jihadists operating in the Sinai Peninsula who are linked to Ramzi Mowafi, a former physician for Osama bin Laden.
Sources have told Egyptian media outlets that Mowafi’s group has been responsible for numerous attacks in the Sinai over the past two years. Among those recently arrested are a Yemeni and a Palestinian who were found in the possession of maps and laptops.
In August 2011, Egyptian security officials told CNN that Mowafi, who is also thought to be an explosives expert, was spotted in the Sinai. At the time, Mowafi, born in Egypt in 1952, was said to be providing military training to a number of people in the Sinai.
Mowafi, who is believed to have done chemical weapons work for al Qaeda, was involved in the January 2011 prison break in which former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi escaped along with a number of other senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders.
Little public information regarding Mowafi appears to be available. One Egyptian press report notes, however, that in 1990 Mowafi reportedly traveled to Mecca, where he met a number of Egyptians who told him that they were in need of doctors to work in Afghanistan. According to Mowafi, he met bin Laden in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia not long thereafter and eventually ended up in Peshawar.
At some point, Mowafi reportedly reached Afghanistan, as an Egyptian official in 2011 charged that he had “set up his own [explosives] laboratory in Tora Bora with bin Laden.”
The identification of Mowafi in the Sinai in August 2011 is noteworthy, as around that same time reports emerged that flyers with the name “al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula” were seen at mosques in the area. According to a recent BBC Arabic report, Mowafi “is thought to be the Emir of Al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula.”
In December 2011, Ansar al Jihad in the Sinai Peninsula, the supposed military wing of al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, announced its formation in a statement released to jihadist forums. [See LWJ report, Ansar al Jihad in the Sinai Peninsula announces formation.]
“With this message we send you the good tidings of the birth of the group ‘Ansar al-Jihad in the Sinai Peninsula,’ and we pledge unto Allah the Great and Almighty to do our best to fight the corrupt regime and its henchmen among the Jews, the Americans, and those around them,” the statement declared. In the same statement, the group said that it pledged “to fulfill the oath of the martyr of the Ummah, our Sheikh Osama bin Laden.”
A month after announcing its founding, Ansar al Jihad in the Sinai Peninsula pledged allegiance to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri. In that statement, the group called on Zawahiri to “throw us wherever you wish …. We will never quit or surrender until the last drop of our blood [is spilled] in the Cause of Allah and until Islam rules by the help of Allah the Almighty.” [See LWJ report, Ansar al Jihad swears allegiance to al Qaeda’s emir.]
US intelligence officials have previously told The Long War Journal that the group has attempted to coordinate operations with Salafi jihadist groups in the Gaza Strip. According to the Wall Street Journal, it was Ansar al Jihad in the Sinai Peninsula’s declaration of allegiance to al Qaeda that increased US interest in the activities of Salafi jihadist groups in the Sinai.