Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis joins Islamic State

The terrorist group operating in Sinai, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, surprised many by pledging allegiance to the Islamic State, and some say that this came as a result of a call for help by the latter.

al-monitor People and security officials look on as smoke rises from a tourist bus in the Red Sea resort town of Taba in south Sinai, Feb. 16, 2014.  Photo by REUTERS.

Topics covered

terrorist organizations, syrian conflict, sinai peninsula, islamic state, egypt

Nov 13, 2014

“Therefore, in obedience to the order of God … and in obedience to His Messenger, … ordering not to divide and to stick to the jama’ah, we declare our bay’ah [pledge of allegiance] to the Khalifah Ibrahim Ibn Awwad Ibn Ibrahim al-Qurashi al-Husayni [Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi], pledging to selflessly hear and obey, in times of hardship and ease, and in times of delight and dislike. We pledge not to dispute the matter of those in authority except if we see obvious kufr concerning which we have proof from God. We call the Muslims everywhere to give bay’ah to the Khalifah and support him, in obedience to God and actualization of the unheeded obligation of the era.”

With this audio message that was broadcast on its website, the Egyptian group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis joined the Islamic State (IS). The group called upon Egyptians to be brave, criticizing the Muslim Brotherhood for embarking on the “shameful path of peace and democracy, which has led to the demise of its advocates.”

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis emerged on the jihadist scene in Egypt following the revolution of January 2011. In the beginning, the group was focused on Israel, in particular bombing the gas pipeline between Israel and Egypt. Its operations have gone beyond the Egyptian-Palestinian borders.

Following the June 30 Revolution, the group has escalated its operations, targeting the army and police in Sinai, which were seen as actions under the cooperation and support of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Although Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which espouses “al-Qaeda ideology,” supports IS, it has not pledged allegiance to Baghdadi before. On the contrary, until last week, the group had repeatedly denied reports claiming it had joined the ranks of IS.

The pledge of allegiance did not come as a surprise, however, it raises many questions since IS’ operations and structure differ from that of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis.

It is known that IS depends on what looks like a regular army, possessing heavy weapons, moving freely in large areas under its control, given the power vacuum in these zones. This allows IS’ army to move freely through large areas of lands and manage its operations just like any other regular army. Moreover, IS has a solid supporting environment and breeding ground, given the sectarian rifts in Iraq and Syria.

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, on the other hand, relies on tit-for-tat tactics and guerilla warfare, with limited light weapons.

Thus, it is unlikely that after pledging allegiance to IS, the latter would become an extension of the extremist group in Egypt or in Sinai, since it does not control large areas to operate in Egypt, especially since the Egyptian authorities have a strong grip on all regions across the country.

Nevertheless, one cannot turn a blind eye on the repercussions that would result from this pledge of allegiance to IS.

Most importantly, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis could become a launching pad for jihadists from all over the world who are not able to join IS, given the difficulty of reaching Syria and Iraq. With Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis being a part of IS, they can easily go to Egypt.

Moreover, Egypt has to reconsider its alliance against terrorism after having welcomed the move and expressed its willingness to be part of the coalition in terms of logistic and informational support, without participating in it directly. However, with IS’ presence in Egypt, Egyptian authorities might have to consider further cooperation since IS has expanded into Egyptian territories.

The most surprising development is that the group’s pledge of allegiance to IS came during a special time for both groups. In fact, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has been suffering from high-tempo counterterrorism operations by the Egyptian authorities against its strongholds in Sinai, threatening to eliminate it completely. IS, on the other hand, is also suffering from setbacks but to a lesser extent, as the coalition’s strikes forced the group to recede in both Syria and Iraq. The fate of Baghdadi has become questionable. This has raised questions as to whether or not the pledge of allegiance by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis to IS came as result of a call for help by the latter.

Maj. Gen. Nabil Fouad, professor of strategic science at Nasser Military Academy, does not view this pledge of allegiance as an important event. “This pledge of allegiance is propaganda more than actual practice. I do not believe it will have repercussions on the ground. The geographical distance between IS and Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is vast and IS would not affect the course of events in Sinai,” he told As-Safir.

“In Iraq, IS controls large areas of land and has plenty of heavy weapons. In Sinai, the situation is different, as the group cannot deploy large numbers of fighters in the Egyptian territory,” he said. “The potential outcome of this allegiance would be the infiltration of some jihadist into the Egyptian territories through western ports and borders. However, one should bear in mind that IS is doomed to failure. It is only a matter of time.”

Regarding Egypt’s relations with the international coalition against terrorism, Fouad said, “There is no need for Egypt to change its stance vis-a-vis the coalition, as it is indeed committed to cooperate but not by sending out troops. I believe, after this pledge, Egypt ought to continue to focus on the situation at home.”

This pledge could be propaganda, but even propaganda attracts individuals from different countries to offer their support. In this context, security expert Maj. Gen. Rifaat Abdul Hamid told As-Safir, “The pledge of allegiance of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis to IS proves it has revealed its true self, and that the two groups are two sides of the same coin.”

“This new announcement poses new challenges to Egypt’s security. Terrorist groups are confirming the continuation of their battle against the state, and thus the Egyptian security apparatus’ approach in fighting terrorism is warranted.”

“This pledge also reflects IS’ weakness and call for help from its strategic reserve of terrorist groups in the region. The forces of terrorism are exhausted and are waiting for support from its groups in Egypt. This pledge, however, places the international coalition before a great responsibility in facing terrorism, which necessitates full support of Egypt’s war on terror, and the discontinuation of funding channels by regional powers that are well known to everyone,” he said.

There is no doubt that the Egyptian authorities would emphasize their strategy in confronting terrorism in its territories following the announcement of the pledge of allegiance, while others would state that this pledge came as a result of the state’s harsh measures.

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