Following the Feb. 16 suicide bombing of a tourist bus in the South Sinai town of Taba, Egyptian security forces intensified their presence in North Sinai. This appears to have now been followed up with a series of airstrikes and raids against suspected Islamist militants.
The primary base of operations for Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis), the jihadist group that took credit for the Taba attack, is believed to be in North Sinai.
On Feb. 17, authorities killed five militants and arrested three others, Egypt’s army spokesman said. The following day, at least five suspected militants were arrested, according to the spokesman. And on Feb. 19, six suspected militants were killed and 10 others arrested in morning operations in North Sinai, the army spokesman claimed.
On the evening of Feb. 19, Egyptian helicopters conducted a series of airstrikes in North Sinai. While the results of the overnight operations have yet to be officially announced by the army’s spokesman, officials told the Associated Press and Xinhua that at least 10 militants were killed. The officials believe that “senior members” of Ansar Jerusalem were among the dead, the AP report noted.
Independent confirmation of the results of Egyptian military operations in North Sinai is almost impossible to come by. On Feb. 3, Egyptian officials told a variety of media outlets that airstrikes had killed or wounded 40 to 45 Islamist militants. But Egypt’s army spokesman Ahmed Ali, who is well known for announcing alleged successes in the Sinai, issued no statement. Local Sinai residents said the claims were false, the Washington Post reported.
Since July 3, 2013, there have been more than 305 reported attacks in the Sinai Peninsula, most of which were carried out against Egyptian security forces and assets, according to data maintained by The Long War Journal. A good number of these attacks, including the Nov. 20, 2013, car bombing that killed 11 Egyptian security personnel, have been claimed by Ansar Jerusalem. On Jan. 26, Ansar Jerusalem released video of its fighters using a surface-to-air missile to take down an Egyptian helicopter operating in North Sinai. Five Egyptian soldiers were killed in the attack.
Attacks by Sinai-based jihadists, Ansar Jerusalem specifically, have also taken place outside North Sinai. On Sept. 5, 2013, the jihadist group used a suicide car bomber in an assassination attempt in Nasr City on Egypt’s interior minister, Mohammed Ibrahim. A month later, an Ansar Jerusalem suicide bomber unleashed a blast at the South Sinai Security Directorate in el Tor, which killed three security personnel and injured more than 45. On Oct. 19, 2013, the Sinai-based jihadist group targeted a military intelligence building in the city of Ismailia in another car bombing. And on Nov. 19, 2013, the group claimed responsibility for the shooting attack on Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Mabrouk, a senior national security officer, in Cairo. In late December 2013, an Ansar Jerusalem suicide car bombing attack outside the Daqahliya security directorate in Mansoura killed over a dozen people and injured over 130 more. Five days after the attack in Mansoura, Ansar Jerusalem carried out a car bombing outside a military intelligence building in Anshas in the Sharkiya governorate.
More recently, Ansar Jerusalem took credit for a series of bombings in Cairo, including a car bombing at the Cairo Security Directorate, on Jan. 24, that left at least six people dead. On Jan. 28, the group said its fighters were responsible for the assassination of an aide to Egypt’s Interior Minister in Cairo.