In an audio message released to jihadist forums on Jan. 24, al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri “praised Chechen insurgents, reflected on recent Egyptian history, and called upon Islamic revolutionaries to adhere fiercely to their religion,” according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which translated the nearly 70-minute message.
During the speech, Zawahiri directs a message “to our people in Sinai.” Notably, during this section, the photos accompanying Zawahiri were from an Ansar Jerusalem funeral on Aug. 10 for four fighters killed the day before. Some of the slain jihadists were wrapped in al Qaeda flags, while vehicles in the procession had the black flags attached as well. In the long speech, Zawahiri states [emphasis added]:
As for my message to our people in the Sinai, I say to them: O’ defiant dear ones, generous honorable ones, O’ people of passion and support and dignity, O’ people of Sinai, the gateway of conquests, and O’ sons of the conquerors, O’ soldiers of Islam and the protectors of creed, and O’ tribes of goodness, and O’ paternal and maternal uncles: I ask Allah to grant you patience and reward you well for your patience before the aggression of the Americanized army of Sisi that conspires with Israel against you, and that Allah accept your martyrs and treat your wounded and hasten the release of your prisoners. I call upon you to offer sanctuary to your brothers the Muhajireen to you from the tyranny of the agent traitor Sisi. You are the people of passion, you do not send back those who call for your help. I call upon you with the right of Islam and mercy to support our people in Gaza and seek every way to break the siege from them that is imposed by Sisi, the agent of the Crusaders and Zionism.
The presence of “Muhajireen,” or foreign fighters, in the Sinai Peninsula has long been speculated, but never conclusively proven to be a widespread phenomenon. While Zawahiri’s recent statement does not prove their presence conclusively either, it certainly raises red flags and more questions.
In November, leading global jihad ideologue Sheikh Abu al Mundhir al Shinqiti stated that each Muslim “must support” Sinai-based jihadists “according to his ability.” “Whoever is able to travel to them, fight with them, and increase their ranks, it is a duty to do so … whoever is unable must support them with money, by inciting to fight [with them], and by [helping to] prepare the fighters,” Shinqiti stated.
In the past, Western officials have estimated that at least several hundred jihadists, some of whom are from Yemen and Somalia, are now operating in the Sinai. Egyptian officials have also expressed concern that jihadists from Algeria and Libya are now operating in the Sinai Peninsula. US officials recently told the New York Times that Sinai-based jihadists and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) were in regular contact. In late August, Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis) was lauded by an AQAP official as “our mujahideen brothers in Sinai.”
Zawahiri’s recent message noting the situation in the Sinai is not the first of its kind. In February 2012, al Qaeda’s emir praised those who had been attacking a gas pipeline in Egypt’s Sinai that provided gas to Israel.
Approximately five months later, Ansar Jerusalem released a video in which it took responsibility for 13 of the attacks. “[I]f you [the Egyptian government] continue exporting gas to the Zionist enemy [Israel] and continue in your betrayal, then we will resume bombing the pipelines once again, but bigger this time,” an official said in the video, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group.
In that video, Ansar Jerusalem showed its fighters preparing and planting explosive devices along the gas pipeline, while audio from Zawahiri’s February speech played.