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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Military operations to resume in Sinai after brief calm

The Israeli-Egyptian border.(Wikimedia - Creative Commons/Idobi)
Published Tuesday, December 30, 2014
The suspension of military operations against the Egyptian army in the Sinai has been broken by recent ambushes. It appears that preparations for major operations are underway, and may extend beyond the borders of the peninsula. According to jihadi sources, competition between groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and Ansar Beit al-Maqdis which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has resulted in the killing of the largest number of army and police personnel.
Sinai – After an undeclared two-week period of calm between the Egyptian forces and militant groups in the Sinai, military operations have returned, claiming the lives of Egyptian soldiers. The army’s frequent announcements about killing and arresting scores of militants cannot be verified due to the ban imposed on the media. However, sources on the ground question the credibility of these figures. In an attack on the army a few days ago, an officer and a soldier were killed when an explosive device was detonated targeting an army vehicle in northern Sinai.
The state of emergency declared by the Egyptian government was broken by an announcement by the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis group, operating in the Sinai, pledging allegiance to ISIS. This is an important turning point in the group’s method of operation, especially since it is the largest “jihadi group” in Egypt. After the announcement of allegiance was posted on the group’s official Twitter account, the term “wilayah (state) of Sinai” was added next to the name of the group. This raises questions about the group’s moves in the coming period, and perhaps explains the recent halt of military operations.
According to observers, although the pledge of allegiance to ISIS came late, it eliminated all doubts that the group is affiliated to al-Qaeda. However, the Ministry of the Interior does not see the pledge as a serious threat. The ministry's spokesman, Major General Hani Abdel Latif, said that Egypt “addresses crimes of terrorism in accordance with the law, without regard to the label under which groups operate.”

Jihadi sources told Al-Akhbarthat the pledge of allegiance by Ansar Beit al-Maqdis to ISIS was made a long time ago, and it was secretly communicated by the group’s leaders to the “emir” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Jihadi sources told Al-Akhbar that the pledge of allegiance by Ansar Beit al-Maqdis to ISIS was made a long time ago, and it was secretly communicated by the group’s leaders to the “emir” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. These details were known in jihadi circles inside and outside Egypt, but the announcement was delayed. The sources refused to explain the reasons for the delayed announcement, noting that the issue is related to preserving the group’s structure.
The sources said, “The link between the jihadi groups and ISIS is stronger than the link to al-Qaeda, because the link to ISIS is central, meaning that the upcoming movements in the “State of Sinai” will be led by the ISIS management and the Mujahideen Shura Council in Iraq.”
“Whether our emir al-Baghdadi wants to escalate or reduce operations in Egypt, we will be at his disposal,” the sources added, noting that “al-Qaeda gives the groups operating under its command the freedom to decide on operations as deemed appropriate by them depending on the circumstances in each country, but all our decisions should be approved by al-Baghdadi.”
Since the announcement of allegiance, the militants in the “State of Sinai” have developed their military tactics, as shown in a video posted by the group featuring 16 operations conducted in the past month in Sinai. Remarkably, the Egyptian authorities and security services did not report the majority of operations exposed by Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. According to a former member of the group, the development of military tactics is due to a need to “demonstrate confidence and reinforce their presence,” hinting to the possibility of carrying out a number of operations outside the peninsula, based on information that recently became available.
Since the dismissal of former President Mohammed Morsi on June 30, operations against the army and police forces increased, resulting in the deployment of three brigades in the areas located east of el-Arish and in border cities (Sheikh Zweid and Rafah), and an aerial umbrella comprising about 12 Apache helicopters, the aim of which is to start a “fierce war on terrorism in the Sinai.”
Although this war was launched almost a year and a half ago, “Ansar Beit al-Maqdis – the State of Sinai” continues to carry out operations during the day and during curfews, and has expanded from eastern to western el-Arish, while increasing attacks on individuals, armored vehicles, and buses. To the security services, what is more serious is that the operations have reached the center of the town of el-Arish, the capital of northern Sinai.
On the official level, a security source in northern Sinai who requested anonymity acknowledged that there is a major flaw in the way the security forces confront “terrorism,” stressing that the security solution is not enough, and that it is imperative to address “economic and social security, which prevents the formation of an environment adequate to ISIS.”
In an interview with Al-Akhbar, the source revealed that the performance of the various security services with regards to the armed groups in the Sinai has been ineffective, thus “there is a need to modify these strategies soon.” He added, “We should not underestimate the pledge of allegiance made by the so-called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis group to ISIS. This is a significant matter to jihadi groups that seek to step up operations to reveal their capabilities.”
As for the non-security solution, Major General Ali Azazi, assistant director of security in northern Sinai, tells Al-Akhbar that “the ‘State of Sinai’ lured the people citing the violent approach by the security services during this critical phase, and the civilian casualties during confrontations or aerial bombardment.”

”[T]he ‘State of Sinai’ lured the people citing the violent approach by the security services during this critical phase, and the civilian casualties during confrontations or aerial bombardment.” – Ali Azazi, assistant director of security in northern Sinai

In a related context, the Egyptian authorities have launched the second phase of house evictions in Rafah, as part of a plan to create a 500-meter wide buffer zone along the border with the Gaza Strip. Upon the completion of this phase, the mentioned area will be 1,000 meters deep and 13 kilometers long.
Residents of the al-Jundi al-Majhool neighborhood in the city told Al-Akhbar that soldiers of the border guard forces knocked at the doors of houses and told residents to evacuate their homes, which would be demolished and included in the buffer zone. The number of houses destroyed in the first phase is estimated to be 820. The authorities maintain that around 235 million pounds has been paid in compensation to residents, while committees continue to examine the damages to compensate the residents.
Defense Minister Sidqi Subhi and Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim visited the part of the buffer zone implemented during the first phase. According to the Ministry of Defense, the visit included a visit to members of the armed forces and the police to follow up on the “implementation of anti-terrorism plans and the establishment of a buffer zone along the border with Gaza.”
Jordan fears the “Sinites”
On arrival to the Jordanian port of Aqaba and Queen Alia Airport in Amman, residents of the Sinai Peninsula were prevented by the Jordanian authorities to enter the kingdom due to “security reasons.” Although Egyptian nationals are allowed entry into Jordan without prior permission, they were asked to obtain a special permit from the Egyptian Interior Ministry.
According to a security source at Cairo airport, passport control began three weeks ago to implement the decision requiring residents of Sinai to obtain a permit to enter Jordan. The source said that Jordan’s decision was made in coordination with the Egyptian authorities “as a result of the deteriorating security situation, and after the capture of a number of residents of Sinai crossing the border from Jordan to Syria to receive training in ISIS camps and return to fight the Egyptian army in the Sinai.”
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis released a video threatening that Jordan will not see “a single drop of gas, even if authorized by the emir of the faithful, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.” The video also included footage of bombings of gas pipes between Egypt and Jordan.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
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