Sinai-based jihadists pledge allegiance to Islamic State in audio recording

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An unidentified jihadist speaking on behalf of the media office of Ansar Bayt al Maqdis (ABM), which is also known as Ansar Jerusalem, has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State. The announcement was made in an audio recording posted on an ABM Twitter feed and also on jihadist forums.

There have been multiple reports in the past indicating that ABM had joined the Islamic State, but those quickly proved to be misleading. On Nov. 4, for instance, ABM denied that it had sworn bayat (or oath of allegiance) to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, who heads the Islamic State. The denial was issued after a statement saying that ABM had pledged allegiance to Baghdadi’s group was circulated online and picked up by the press. ABM quickly said that it had nothing to do with the statement.

The unnamed jihadist in the newly-released audio recording, however, says that he represents ABM’s media wing and the group has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State. He also calls on all other Muslims to do the same.

The recording has been translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

The ABM jihadist says that he and others “announce our pledging allegiance to Caliph Ibrahim” and will “hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity, in hardship and ease, and to endure being discriminated against, and not to dispute about rule with those in power, except in case of evident infidelity regarding that which there is a proof from Allah.”

“We call on Muslims everywhere to pledge allegiance to the Caliph and support him, as obedience to Allah and as their application of the absent duty of the era,” the jihadist continues, according to SITE’s translation.

While the Islamic State has an international network of supporters, it has struggled to win the allegiance of other established jihadist groups. Some veteran jihadists, ranging from Southeast Asia to Africa, have pledged their loyalty to Baghdadi. But most of the Islamic State’s support comes from younger jihadist recruits. Al Qaeda’s regional branches and other leading jihadists have refrained from offering their loyalty.

The jihadist in the ABM recording expresses frustration with the fact that more “mujahideen” have not committed to Baghdadi.

According to SITE’s translation, he says: “Our message to our mujahideen brothers in all the fronts: To what are you looking at? To what are you aspiring? A State has been established for Islam and Muslims, and a Caliph was appointed for them and to be an Emir of the Believers, yet you slacken through your failure to support it, and you are weak to stand under its banner in a time when the whole world has piled on top against it. What is wrong with you? What is your excuse, O mujahideen, all of you?”

Known ties between ABM and Islamic State, but details remain murky

Curiously, the jihadist featured in the ABM recording is not identified — either by his nom de guerre (alias), or by his position within the group. It is not publicly known who he is, or what his exact title is within the organization.

Much about ABM’s leadership structure, including even the identity of the group’s emir (or overall leader), remains unknown. The man in the latest ABM audio recording does not identify himself as ABM’s emir.

Since the beginning of this year, there have been multiple reports indicating ties between ABM and the Islamic State.

Egyptian security officials claim that the Islamic State has been assisting ABM in its operations. A senior ABM commander told Reuters in early September that the Islamic State was teaching the organization how to set up terrorist cells. “They teach us how to carry out operations. We communicate through the Internet,” an anonymous ABM commander explained to Reuters. “They don’t give us weapons or fighters. But they teach us how to create secret cells, consisting of five people. Only one person has contact with other cells.”

In August, ABM beheaded four Egyptians, accusing them of being “spies” for Israel. The group released a video of the slayings that was similar to the Islamic State’s productions. The Islamic State released a video showing the beheading of James Foley, an American journalist, one week earlier and it is likely that ABM’s own recording was inspired by the Islamic State’s gruesome display.

Al Qaeda has objected to such videos, reasoning that they do damage to the jihadists’ brand and turn away more prospective followers than they woo. At the time, therefore, ABM’s beheading video was seen as an indication that the group was being influenced by the Islamic State, which has rejected al Qaeda’s guidelines for waging jihad and been disowned by al Qaeda’s general command. [See LWJ report, Ansar Jerusalem beheads 4 Egyptians accused of being Israeli ‘spies’.]

In the past, ABM’s propaganda has also demonstrated al Qaeda’s influence over the group. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s expansion into Egypt.]

If the latest recording speaks for ABM’s chain-of-command, then the Egyptian jihadist organization is now part of the Islamic State’s international project.

But there have been disputes within ABM concerning the rivalry between the Islamic State and al Qaeda. An alleged ABM statement pledging loyalty to Baghdadi was quickly disavowed by the group earlier this month. This is an indication that there is disagreement within the organization on this matter.

Citing Western officials “familiar with intelligence reports on the group’s internal communications,” The New York Times reports that there is a dispute between ABM’s leadership in the Nile Valley and the Sinai. While the Sinai contingent has been in favor of allying with the Islamic State for months, “some of the Nile Valley leadership remains loyal to Al Qaeda in its theoretical disputes and rivalry with the Islamic State.”

The dispute within ABM’s leadership ranks may lead the group to split into two organizations.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

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