The Islamic State’s “province” in the Sinai has launched a series of coordinated attacks on Egyptian security forces. The massive assault involved three suicide bombers and dozens of fighters. The jihadists targeted military personnel and police stations in El Arish and Sheikh Zuweid, both of which are located in the northern Sinai near the border with the Gaza strip and Israel.
Initial casualty reports indicate that dozens have been killed, including Egyptian soldiers and policemen.
The Islamic State’s arm in the Sinai has already issued a statement claiming responsibility for the operation. The statement, which has been translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, was disseminated via Twitter. It can be seen on the right.
“In a blessed invasion for which Allah facilitated its causes, lions of the Caliphate in Sinai Province were able to mount concurrent attacks on more than fifteen military and security locations of the apostate Egyptian army,” the message begins, according to SITE’s translation.
The group says it “carried out three martyrdom-seeking operations” and a series of other attacks involving “heavy and light weapons, RPG shells and mortars,” “guided rockets,” and “air defense weapons.” That latter were allegedly used to force Egyptian aircraft away from the locations under siege.
The Islamic State’s “province” lists the more than 15 locations that were assaulted, including an “officers’ club” in El Arish, a police department in Sheikh Zuweid, and at least 14 security barriers. The group claims to have taken “full control” of several of these locations.
The statement is formatted in the same manner as messages issued by the Islamic State’s other provinces. The upper right hand corner contains an Islamic State logo. The header is red, with a blue body and white text in Arabic. In recent days, the Islamic State’s “provinces” in Saudi Arabia (which bombed a Shiite mosque in Kuwait), Tunisia and Yemen all executed high-profile operations. The claim of responsibility for each of those attacks used the same template as the Sinai “province’s” message.
The Sinai operation is distinct from the other recent attacks, however, as it deliberately hit hardened targets using dozens of fighters at once. The Islamic State’s operatives in Kuwait, Tunisia and Yemen struck a mosque, a tourist location, and a funeral, respectively. Each of these locations is a “soft” civilian target with minimal security. And each of those attacks involved a small number of jihadists.
Like many of the Islamic State’s other “provinces” outside of Iraq and Syria, the group in the Sinai does not control much territory. Today’s assault was intended, in part, to drive Egyptian security forces out of the Sinai.
The Islamic State’s Sinai province was formerly known as Ansar Bayt al Maqdis (ABM), which had ties to al Qaeda. On November 10, 2014, an unidentified jihadist from ABM announced his group’s allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the self-appointed head of the Islamic State’s “caliphate.” ABM was quickly rebranded as part of the Islamic State, and has claimed numerous attacks in the months since.
On November 13, 2014, al Baghdadi formally acknowledged the pledge of allegiance (bayat) from ABM, as well as several other groups, in an audio message. He announced “the expansion of the Islamic State to new lands, to the lands of al Haramain [meaning Saudi Arabia] and [to] Yemen, and to Egypt, Libya and Algeria.”
Baghdadi accepted “the bayat from those who gave us bayat in those lands,” and proclaimed “the nullification of the groups therein.” He announced the creation of “new wilayah [provinces] for the Islamic State, and the appointment of wali [provincial leaders] for them.”
The Islamic State’s emir called on “every” Muslim to “join the closest wilayah to him, and to hear and obey the wali appointed by us for it.”
Baghdadi’s announcement was a direct affront to al Qaeda and its branches, which operate in each of the areas addressed by the Islamic State leader. However, many jihadists refused to submit.
For instance, credible reports indicate that part of ABM remained loyal to al Qaeda. And another jihadist group in Egypt, Ajnad Misr (“Soldiers of Egypt”), had already broken off from ABM. The leader of Ajnad Misr, Hammam Attiyah, was killed earlier this year. Both al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) eulogized Attiyah. Ajnad Misr has been relatively quiet in the months since.
Today’s raids in the Sinai are likely the most significant in Egypt in some time. And the operation demonstrates that despite relentless pressure from Egyptian security forces, the Islamic State’s Sinai “province” remains a potent foe.