Attacks in Egypt's Sinai Reflect Spread of Jihadists, Islamists

Attacks in Egypt’s Sinai attest to the spreading power of Islamist and Jihadist groups, who are taking advantage of a power vacuum to pull off attacks against Israel and against the Egyptian state, reports Abd-al-Qader Mubarak. These al-Qaeda-linked groups are recruiting throughout the peninsula.

al-monitor A member of the Army embraces a relative of a soldier killed along the Sinai border by unknown gunmen during the soldier's funeral in Cairo Aug. 7, 2012. Gunmen shot dead 16 Egyptian border guards in an attack blamed partly on Palestinian jihadi militants.  Photo by REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh.

Topics covered

terrorism, sinai peninsula, sinai, salafists, arab-israeli conflict, al-qaeda

Aug 7, 2012

The latest criminal incident [in the Sinai] has reopened the file on jihadist groups. These groups have previously carried out criminal operations, and today threaten to carry out more in the Sinai to spread chaos.

The religious groups present in the Sinai can be divided into three categories: Takfir wal-Hijra groups, jihadist groups and Salafist groups. All are religious organizations that have a significant presence in northern Sinai, but the Takfir wal-Hijra groups are the least widespread. They are mainly concentrated in the cities of Sheikh Zuwaid and Rafah, and started to gain momentum with the outbreak of the January 25 Revolution. They refuse to participate in elections, and consider them as a form of infidelity and atheism. As a result, the Takfir wal-Hijra groups have boycotted the latest parliamentary and presidential elections.

Many elements of these three groups had been detained under the former regime, and were subsequently released in the wake of the January 25 Revolution. Some escaped from prisons during the revolution and have stayed off the radar of security apparatuses ever since. According to residents of Sheikh Zuwaid and Rafah, groups that fall into the “Takfir wal-Hijra” category are hostile to the community in northern Sinai and consider anyone who questions their views an infidel and atheist. They deploy “princes” [Muslim commanders] at mosques and locations far from cities, who, in turn, spread fanatic ideas and attract young men from the Sinai. Recently, this recruitment has occurred with increasing frequency.

These jihadist groups are associated with al-Qaeda and have spread throughout the Sinai since the start of the January 25 Revolution. A group calling itself “the Mujahidin Shura Council-Protectors of Jerusalem,” claimed responsibility for the bombings targeting the gas pipeline linked to Israel, as well as for an operation that targeted an Israeli patrol near the Egyptian border, killing three people, one of them Israeli. The group declared its name via a video recording released on the Internet. It also declared responsibility for the bombings of the gas pipeline in another recording that was disseminated on July 20. In the video tape, the group said they were affiliated with al-Qaeda, and dedicated these operations to the deceased al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden – who was killed by the US military in early May 2011 in an operation in Pakistani – the “oppressed Syrian people” and to the “mujahidin, along with their leaders and ‘princes’ in all arenas of jihad working for the sake of God.”

The group, which identified itself as “the Mujahidin Shura Council-Protectors of Jerusalem,” said in a statement: “Operation ‘Battle for Al-Aqsa [Mosque] and [Palestinian] Prisoners’ was carried out by two young Egyptian men and one Saudi.”

A jihadist group stationed in the Sinai, which calls itself the “Supporters of Jerusalem,” claimed responsibility for the bombing of the gas pipeline in northern Sinai linked to Israel.

According to residents of the [Egyptian-Israeli] border area, jihadist groups have quietly been growing over the past two years, taking advantage of the security vacuum and preparing themselves for foreign-funded operations. The residents also added that signs of the groups’ wealth have become visible, and they can be seen riding around in expensive, luxury four-wheel drive vehicles. They note that these groups have been working silently and have grown considerably.

As for the Salafist groups, they are mainly concentrated in the areas of El Arish, Rafah and central Sinai. The Salafist groups consider terrorist operations criminal acts and find them unacceptable. These groups were persecuted by the “state security” apparatuses under Mubarak, and suffered greatly from the former regime. They are now trying to integrate into the society, spread their Salafist ideas among members of the community and take part in the political process following the revolution. What has helped them [integrate in the society] is their formation of legal committees across the Sinai, which aim to resolve disputes between citizens based on Shariah law [Islamic law]. Local residents have abandoned the standard judicial process, and have been resorting to committees overseen by Salafist groups. Working to solve the chronic problems of the Sinai community has helped them in spreading their ideas. 

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