Islamic State’s Sinai ‘province’ launches coordinated attacks against Egyptian forces

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.

15-07-1 Islamic State Sinai attacks

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.

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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7 Comments

  • mike merlo says:

    so how long before the Suez Canal gets ‘shut down?’

  • Oberron says:

    Given how corrupted the Egyptian Military has become and the Egyptian Deep State, they won’t last long. Their coup forever discredited democracy in Egypt and the lawlessness of Sinai enables the Sinai Branch to expand. The only check is that many Muslim Brotherhood supporters still hope they can win back elections which is a pipe dream, Erdogan had to arrest and execute Generals to force Turkey’s military out of politics and into Barracks where it belonged just to restore the concept of Democracy and then dismantle the deep state with arrests and corruption trials. That HDP could gain the 10% threshold is entirely thanks to Erdogan dismantling the Turkish Military and Deep State’s role in Government.

    • mike merlo says:

      @ Oberron

      …& yet it’s been Erdogan & the ‘Newly Minted’ Intelligence Service that has facilitated the flow of Islamic Extremist’s & War Fighting Material into the Middle East & adjoining areas. Not to mention his unabashed support of the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey has transitioned into another Pakistan under the auspices of Erdogan. If Turkey’s present trajectory continues, which it most likely will, Turkey’s Military will reassert itself. What that ultimately ‘looks’ like remains to be seen but it will happen

    • Tom V says:

      Oberron, the Egyptian military actually restored confidence in the government in Egypt, in the possibility of democracy, by responding to the overwhelming outpouring of popular support and removing a tyrannical regime. Democracy _must_ respond to tyranny.

      As for Erdogan, the Turkish military is the only obstacle preventing him from establishing an Islamic government. His proclivities are well known.

  • susan says:

    Both in Turkey & Egypt the army stands between the people & “militant Islamist” The coup in Egypt was Very popular with the people & the elections in Turkey proved they were against the creeping Islamization of Erdogan! Its obvious which side your on!

  • Devil says:

    Corruption in the Egyptian is not a necessarily sign of its ineffectiveness in times of war. The Army is very wealthy, determined and armed to the teeth.

    While the counter revolution against the MB was a shamble, Sisi is more popular than Morsi ever was and that should not be forgotten. Many Egyptians will say that the MB stole the revolution from them.

    As corrupt as Egyptian politics is, Sisi did win the popular vote, hands down.

  • Randy Anderson says:

    I wonder how the MFO, the treaty observers stationed right in the middle of this action, are faring and what is the impact on the Treaty between Egypt and Israel if these peacekeepers can not do their compliance observations?

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