Islamic State leader in Egypt says church bombings aren’t popular

The ninth edition of the Islamic State’s Rumiyah (“Rome”) magazine was released online earlier today. And it features an interview with an unnamed jihadist who is identified as the “emir” of the group’s “soldiers” in Egypt. This man runs a branch of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s organization in Egypt that is apparently separate from Wilayah Sinai, or the Sinai “province.”

Although the interview is part of the so-called caliphate’s propaganda efforts, it contains some telling admissions. The Islamic State’s “emir” concedes that his group’s church bombings aren’t very popular in Egypt, nor is its jihadist ideology.

The Islamic State’s local arm has bombed Coptic churches in Egypt three times since late last year. On Dec. 11, 2016, a suicide bomber attacked St. Peter’s Church in Cairo. Then, on Apr. 9, jihadists equipped with explosive vests detonated themselves at the St. Mark’s Church in Alexandria and St. George’s Church in Tanta. Dozens were killed or wounded in the bombings.

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s organization has promoted the anti-Christian attacks in its propaganda. In fact, the new issue of Rumiyah attempts to justify the jihadists’ slaughter of innocents at places of worship.

The cover story (“The Ruling on the Belligerent Christians”) concludes that “targeting these churches with ruin and destruction is a matter that is permitted in the Shari’ah, and it is allowed to use this as a means of attaining closeness to Allah.” Rumiyah’s authors tell readers that even the blood of Christian women and children is permissible.

But the Islamic State’s own “emir” in Egypt concedes that most people don’t agree.

Asked what “kind of reaction” these “operations” receive “from the general masses” and others, he says the “prevailing trend in many people’s reactions is that of denunciation, as well as disassociation from these operations in specific, and from the war on the Christians and the tawaghit in general.” He complains that the people offer “condolences to these mushrikin [polytheists] on account of what befalls them, under the claim of national brotherhood and the like, despite” the fact the victims are supposedly outside “of the religion.”

The implication is that the Islamic State’s church bombings are unlikely to help it build more popular support for the jihadists’ cause inside Egypt. However, the senior jihadist argues that the Egyptian government’s heavy-handed actions after bombings only helps his cause by alienating more of the population.

Still, the “emir” complains that the biggest problem his group faces is that the jihadist ideology has not been widely adopted inside Egypt.

“Indeed, the most important thing the mujahidin face in Misr [Egypt] is the absence of the reality of tawhid from a large section of the population, especially when it comes to legislating and ruling by other than what Allah revealed, showing allegiance to those who commit this type of shirk, and showing enmity to the believers who fight so that rule is entirely for Allah,” the Islamic State’s “emir” says.

Despite these limitations, the caliphate loyalist claims the number of jihadist has “increased” and they are gaining “strength” in Egypt. He also claims that their anti-Christian operations are having “their desired effect and are achieving their designated goals.” Instead of backing away from the church bombings, he calls on Muslims to “plan operations against the Christians and the apostates” and tells them to stay away from churches and any places associated with government security forces or the West, because these “are all valid targets.”

Rumiyah’s editors refer to mainland Egypt and the Sinai as two separate regions in the Islamic State’s division of responsibilities based on geography. The “emir” does as well.

“Tell us about your relationship with Sinai Wilayah,” the Rumiyah interviewer says.

“What connects us with our brothers, the soldiers of the Khilafah in Sinai Wilayah, is a relationship of brotherliness, love, and allegiance – may Allah bless them,” he responds. “We are all soldiers of the Islamic State in the land of Sinai and Misr [Egypt], fighting so that the word of Allah becomes supreme.” He adds that the jihadists’ path to Jerusalem from Egypt leads through the Sinai.

In the cover story, Rumiyah’s editors also refer to Egypt and the Sinai as separate “lands” in which the jihadists have attacked Christians.

Therefore, taken at face value, Rumiyah indicates that the head of Wilayah Sinai and the Islamic State’s “emir” in mainland Egypt are two different men.

“Just Terror Tactics: Hostage-Taking”

Rumiyah continues the Islamic State’s “Just Terror” series, which provides tips for carrying out terror attacks.

The new issue focuses on hostage-taking operations, telling would-be jihadists that they can acquire arms at guns shows in the US or from “gun dealers and underground criminal networks” in Europe, where “firearms are widely available” due to Europe’s “proximity to many conflict zones.”

Rumiyah cites the example of Amedy Coulibaly (also known as Abu Basir al-Ifriqi), who killed several hostages at a kosher food market in Paris in Jan. 2015. Coulibaly “succeeded in acquiring a small arsenal of weapons consisting of handguns, AK-47 assault rifles, explosives, and a cache of ammunition,” Rumiyah’s editors inform readers.

The Islamic State’s propagandists list a number of public places as “ideal target locations” for taking hostages. And they go further, encouraging adherents in the West to lure victims by posting fake advertisements for jobs and rental properties, so they can nab unsuspecting people during the course of their regular lives.

A separate infographic encourages additional truck attacks, which Islamic State supporters have already carried out in Europe.

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

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