Egyptian army claims successes as jihadists allege 'massacre'
At a press conference in Cairo on Sept. 15, Egyptian army spokesman Ahmed Ali announced that recent operations by Egyptian security forces in the Sinai Peninsula have led to the arrests of 309 Islamist militants since July. During his remarks, Ali said that the existence of terrorist and criminal hot spots in North Sinai is a challenge and serious threat to Egyptian national security that has the potential to undermine regional and global security as well.
Ali said that since June 30, "terrorist elements" in the Sinai have increased operations against Egyptian security posts and personnel, among other targets. In response to the attacks, Egyptian forces have raided hundreds of homes, taken control of a number of weapon caches, and seized a variety of weaponry including RPGs, mortars, and anti-aircraft missiles, he said.
The army spokesman, who said operations in the Sinai will continue, also identified the town of al-Mahdiyya near Rafah as a stronghold for the jihadist group Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis). In response to claims by jihadist groups, such as Ansar Jerusalem and al Salafiyya al Jihadiyya, that recent army operations in the Sinai have targeted mosques and killed innocent people, including women, children, and elderly men, Ali said that none of them were targets.
Ali further charged that some of the Islamist militants operating in the Sinai have been coordinating with their counterparts in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. He called on Hamas to be more aggressive in securing its side of the Egypt-Gaza border, as Egyptian authorities have announced the discovery of booby traps along the border with wires running back into Gaza.
"Egypt deserves more than the effort we are seeing from the other side [Hamas] to secure the border," the army spokesman said.
Meanwhile, in a statement released to jihadist forums on Sept. 15, Ansar Jerusalem alleged that the Egyptian army was responsible for the deaths of at least seven civilians, including four children, in a "massacre" in the Sinai on Sept. 13. "We in Ansar Jerusalem and all the mujahideen in Sinai in Egypt as a whole stress that the blood of innocent Muslims will not go in vain," read the communiqué, which was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
The Sinai-based jihadist group, which promised a "painful" response, released a number of photos of the alleged incident along with the statement.
On Sept. 10, Ansar Jerusalem had contended in a statement released to jihadist forums that the army and police in Egypt are "spearhead[ing]" an "all-out war against Islam in Egypt." Notably, the jihadist group claimed that they were aware of the targets security forces intended to strike. Thus, "the mujahideen ... undertook a studied evacuation operation that would make this operation lose its goal," the statement boasted. The communiqué, which accused security forces of carrying out a number of "crimes," concluded by declaring that "it is obligatory to repulse them [the army] and fight them until the command of Allah is fulfilled."