In a statement released to jihadist forums on March 14, the Sinai-based jihadist group Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis) announced the death of Tawfiq Mohammed Freij, also known as Abu Abdullah. The group described Freij as one of the group’s founders, and said he had been killed on March 11. And yesterday, the group issued a statement eulogizing Mohamed al Sayed Mansour al Toukhi, who died on March 11 in a shootout with Egyptian authorities in Cairo’s Ain Shams district.
The two statements, translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, were the first confirmation by Ansar Jerusalem since Jan. 2 of the deaths of members. Freij and Toukhi are the 18th and 19th members whom Ansar Jerusalem has confirmed dead by name, according to a tally maintained by The Long War Journal.
Tawfiq Mohammed Freij
Freij’s death occurred when a bomb he was transporting detonated during a car accident, Ansar Jerusalem claimed. The jihadist group did not specify where Freij died. Egyptian military sources are claiming that the traffic accident story is a cover and that Freij died as a result of an operation by security forces in North Sinai.
In early January 2014, Freij had been identified by Egypt’s Interior Ministry as a key figure in the jihadist group. According to Ansar Jerusalem’s statement, Freij “was one of the people of unique fingerprints in the history of the jihadi work in Sinai” and had earlier “accompanied” the former leaders of Tawhid wal Jihad, Khaled Mosaed and Naser Khamis. Mosaed was killed in 2005, and Khamis died in 2006.
Although Ansar Jerusalem did not specify Freij’s nationality, the group has previously claimed to have been founded by Egyptians.
According to Ansar Jerusalem, it was Freij who came up with the idea of carrying out attacks against a pipeline that supplied gas to Israel. In addition, he was the “field commander” for the group’s Aug. 18, 2011 cross-border attack that killed eight Israelis. He was also involved in the “disciplinary invasion against those who transgressed against the beloved Prophet,” likely a reference to the group’s September 2012 cross-border attack against Israel. And in 2013, Freij oversaw a number of Ansar Jerusalem’s attacks, including the attempted assassination of Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim on Sept. 5, 2013.
Ansar Jerusalem’s eulogy for Freij concluded by saying that he was a “good commander for your brothers and a good soldier to your emirs.”
Mohamed al Sayed Mansour al Toukhi
In its eulogy for al Toukhi, Ansar Jerusalem said that he had conducted “jihad with his self and his money in the cause of Allah.” According to the jihadist group, al Toukhi, who spent at least three and a half years in prison, fought the enemies of Islam.
After leaving prison (no specific date was given), al Toukhi “yearned for jihad and martyrdom and so he continued his jihadi journey against the Jews and their agents.” According to Ansar Jerusalem, al Toukhi “participated in several attacks and struck the enemies of Allah and hurt their headquarters.” Egypt’s Interior Ministry had previously said that al Toukhi was a key suspect in the Jan. 24 car bombing outside the Cairo Security Directorate.
Ansar Jerusalem, which was founded by Egyptians, is the dominant jihadist group operating in the Sinai Peninsula today. The group, whose fighters are often seen with the al Qaeda flag, has claimed credit for a number of attacks against Israel and Egypt since 2011.
In September 2013, Ansar Jerusalem, which releases material through the jihadist forums of Al Fajr Media Center, al Qaeda’s exclusive media distribution outlet, declared that “it is obligatory to repulse them [the Egyptian army] and fight them until the command of Allah is fulfilled.” Recent reports in the Egyptian media have suggested that Ansar Jerusalem may have links to Muhammad Jamal and the Muhammad Jamal Network [MJN], which were added to the US government’s list of designated terrorists and the UN’s sanctions list in October 2013.
Jamal, whose fighters have been linked to the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi terror attack, is said to have established “several terrorist training camps in Egypt and Libya” with funding from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In late August, Ansar Jerusalem was lauded by an AQAP official as “our mujahideen brothers in Sinai.”
The nascent insurgency
Since July 3, 2013, there have been more than 315 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.
The al Furqan Brigades, which are not believed to be based in the Sinai, have also claimed responsibility for a number of shootings and rocket attacks in the Egyptian mainland since July 2013. In addition, a group calling itself Ajnad Misr has claimed responsibility for seven attacks in the Cairo area in recent months.
Early yesterday morning, at least six army officers were gunned downed by unidentified gunmen in the Cairo area, the Associated Press reported. The attack came only two days after unidentified gunmen killed one soldier and wounded three others in a shooting in the Cairo area. Egypt’s army spokesman blamed both attacks, which have not yet been claimed, on the Muslim Brotherhood.