Wilayat Sinai, or the Sinai Province of the Islamic State, claimed responsibility for a series of attacks throughout the Sinai yesterday via posts on Twitter. In a statement released earlier today, the organization said the operations were revenge against the Egyptian government for imprisoning the “sisters” (Muslim women). Two pictures of the attacks, one of which can be seen above, were posted with the statement.
The same justification has been offered by Ajnad Misr (“Soldiers of Egypt”) for its operations in Cairo and elsewhere. The jihadists claim that devout Muslim women are being oppressed by the government and, therefore, need to be avenged.
Wilayat Sinai said in its statement today that complex assaults were carried out against the Egyptian military and police in El Arish, Sheikh Zuweid, and Rafah. The raid in El Arish appears to have been the most sophisticated, as it involved three explosives-laden vehicles.
Interestingly, the group says that it launched the assaults, utilizing almost one hundred fighters (a claim that cannot be independently verified), after nighttime curfews went into effect. It did so to supposedly minimize the loss of civilian life.
The Islamic State and its so-called “provinces” are not known for their concern for civilian casualties in the Muslim majority world. In contrast, Al Qaeda and its branches have attempted to steer their violence away from Muslim civilians. And, interestingly, Wilayat Sinai’s claim in this regard is again similar to how Ajnad Misr says it carries out its operations inside Egypt.
Ajnad Misr, which was designated as a terrorist organization by the State Department in December, is an offshoot of Ansar Bayt al Maqdis (“ABM”) and has not sworn allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s organization.
The number of casualties caused by the attacks varies across press accounts.
According to an Egyptian health official who spoke with Agence France Presse (AFP), at least 40 people were killed and dozens more were injured. Other reports say the number of casualties was lower. Wilayat Sinai’s statement implies that the number of people killed or wounded is much higher.
Regardless, the attacks are clearly the deadliest ones conducted by the group since it swore allegiance to the Islamic State.
The New York Times reports that the series of raids were carried out on the North Sinai security directorate headquarters, an army base, various security checkpoints, a hotel, the capital of the province, and a security camp.
Wilayat Sinai claimed several terrorist operations in late December, one on a natural gas pipeline that extends into Jordan and two others on Egyptian military vehicles.
The group has repeatedly targeted the Egyptian military in the Sinai, and killed dozens of soldiers in October, leading security forces to impose curfews in the North Sinai. Wilayat Sinai specifically mentions those curfews in today’s statement.
According to CNN, hundreds of police and troops have been killed in the last year and a half, since the military’s ouster of President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013.
According to one report in the Financial Times, Wilayat Sinai’s large-scale operations may have spurred smaller cells in other cities to also strike targets in Suez, Cairo, and Port Said.
Despite the military’s crackdown since October, security forces are clearly unable to prevent these types of significant, multi-stage assaults from happening, highlighting flaws in Egypt’s ability to combat the jihadists.
Following Thursday’s raids, Egypt’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) released a statement on the army spokesman’s Facebook page announcing it would ramp up operations to crackdown on militants in the Sinai. And President Abdul Fattah al Sisi cut his trip to an African Union summit in Ethiopia short due to the attacks.
In addition to the photo shown above, Wilayat Sinai released this photo from yesterday: