Egypt identifies Ansar Jerusalem leader as group announces deaths of fighter and preacher
In a statement released to jihadist forums today, the Sinai-based jihadist group Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis) announced the deaths of a fighter and a preacher. The fighter, identified as Abu Arsalan Saeed al Shahat, killed himself by detonating a suicide vest when Egyptian security forces raided his home. The preacher, identified as Abu Hajer Muhammad Nasser Zaghloul, purportedly died in prison as a result of torture and failure to receive proper medication for his diabetes.
While Ansar Jerusalem did not provide a date for Shahat's death, the details in the communique appear to match those of an incident on Dec. 19 in the Cairo area. "Police in Egypt said an Islamist militant blew himself up in his hideout to escape arrest," AFP reported at the time. According to Ansar Jerusalem's statement, translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, Shahat died "after a journey of striving, giving, and doing jihad with his soul in the cause of Allah."
In a possible reference to the March 2011 storming of state security buildings, Ansar Jerusalem said that Shahat "was among the first to storm the State Security building during the revolution." Following this, although the exact dates are unclear, Shahat traveled to Syria to fight against the regime of Bashar al Assad. After some time in Syria (the statement does not identify which forces he joined there), Shahat returned to Egypt to be with his "mujahideen brothers," and partake "with them in their jihad and preparation."
In the section about Zaghloul, Ansar Jerusalem praised the preacher for speaking "aloud the truth and informed the people about Tawhid." "He was a fighter against polytheism and condemnation, an inciter for jihad in the cause of Allah, and supporter of the mujahideen," the statement said. It is does not specify the date of Zaghloul's death.
Ansar Jerusalem concluded its latest statement by saying it will seek to exact revenge for Zaghloul and Shahat by attacking those responsible. "[W]e will strike your necks and cut off all your fingertips, and we will tighten the restraints until we achieve victory or perish without it," the group declared.
Meanwhile, during a press conference today, Egypt's Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who was targeted by Ansar Jerusalem in early September, identified Tawfiq Mohammed Freij Ziada (also known as Abu Abdullah) as one of the group's leaders.
Ansar Jerusalem, which was founded by Egyptians, is the dominant jihadist group operating in the Sinai Peninsula today. The group, whose fighters are often seen with the al Qaeda flag, has claimed credit for a number of attacks against Israel and Egypt over the past two years. Most recently, the group took responsibility for a suicide car bombing in Mansoura that killed more than a dozen people and injured over 130.
In September 2013, Ansar Jerusalem, which releases material through the jihadist forums of Al Fajr Media Center, al Qaeda's exclusive media distribution outlet, declared that "it is obligatory to repulse them [the Egyptian army] and fight them until the command of Allah is fulfilled." Recent reports in the Egyptian media have suggested that Ansar Jerusalem may have links to Muhammad Jamal and the Muhammad Jamal Network [MJN], which were added to the US government's list of designated terrorists and the UN's sanctions list in October 2013.
Jamal, whose fighters have been linked to the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi terror attack, is said to have established "several terrorist training camps in Egypt and Libya" with funding from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
In late November, in response to a Long War Journal query on whether the State Department believes there is a connection between the Muhammad Jamal Network (MJN) and Ansar Bayt al Maqdis, a State Department spokesman said: "We have no comment on the inter-relationships between MJN and the other Sinai groups."