Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM)
Supporters of Jerusalem
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdes
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis
Jamaat Ansar Beit al-Maqdis
Jamaat Ansar Beit al-Maqdis fi Sinaa
Supporters of the Holy Place
Conscripts and the lower ranks of the Egyptian army believe that they are being used as cannon fodder in an endless war in Sinai evicting Egyptians from their land. The population of long-suffering the Sinai peninsula of Egypt have been subject to military airstrikes targeting civilian areas, an endeavour in which Sisi's ally Israel often joined (yes, Sisi allows the dreaded ‘Zionist Entity’ to murder Egyptians), forced evictions, house destructions, arbitrary arrests (or, more aptly, state kidnapping), torture and extra-judicial executions. Tens of thousands of people fled the Sinai, specifically the North Sinai Governorate, due to the ‘scorched earth’ practices of the regime, with entire towns being abandoned over the first six years of Sisi’s rule.
The Daesh-affiliated Wilayat Sina (‘Sinai Province’) group practices its cruelties against populations that resist it. The world was made well aware in 2017 of the notorious attack by the group on the El Rawda mosque, which claimed over 300 lives and which is eclipsed only by the regime’s massacre of pro-democracy protesters as the most deadly massacre in Egypt’s modern history.
But what’s rarely covered is the fact that in the areas of the Sinai controlled by Wilayat Sina, such as in and around Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid, the mostly Bedouin population are subject to the group’s vicious and fascistic interpretation of sharia. This manifested in residents being subject to bogus trials put on by the group, as well as checkpoints being set up by the group’s Hisbah (religious police). Christians in places such as El Arish have been subject to murder by the group, forcing most of the Christian population in North Sinai to flee to the Nile Valley.
While precious little of substance is known about the inner workings of Wilayat Sina, one aspect of the group is beyond doubt: its very existence, in its current form, can be attributed to Sisi’s brutal coup and subsequent crushing of democracy and all opposition. Of course, its predecessors were present in the Sinai before the overthrow of democracy by Sisi, but the coup was the impetus the group needed to unify disparate forces under its banner and gain official status as an affiliate of Daesh.
For almost all of its history, the peninsula has been neglected by central governments and authorities in Egypt. The majority of its population belong to Egypt’s Bedouin Arab minority, who are treated as second class citizens – they are effectively banned from government employment and are unable to own the very land on which they live. Its harsh resourceless terrain was never going to command attention from Egypt’s successive tyrants. When the Sinai did find investment from the central government, such as in resort cities like Sharm El Sheikh, not only were Bedouins cleared from their land as part of the development process, but Egyptians from the Nile Valley were shipped in to take the jobs, with locals once again being locked out of socioeconomic life.
Flagrant discrimination and neglect have led to a situation where the local population harbours a festering hatred towards the Egyptian government and what might be called the majority-Egyptian culture. It’s of no surprise, then, that Salafi extremism, with its appeal to those who live precarious lives and those who have been pushed into a brutal form of survival, began to take a foothold in the peninsula.
Morsi’s attempts to deescalate violence in the Sinai were invariably described as his will to give a ‘free hand’ to ‘Islamists’ in the Sinai, while his moderate attempts to devolve economic power back to local Egyptians was depicted as a potentially catastrophic event for the Egyptian economy.
Over 300 people were killed in a shocking terror attack on a mosque in Egypt's Sinai region 24 November 2017. Officials say gunmen opened fire and bombed the mosque during midday prayers on Friday in what has become the deadliest terror attack on Egyptian soil. Police said men in four off-road vehicles opened fire on worshippers in a Sufi mosque. Images showed scores of bodies wrapped in blood soaked cloth lined up on the carpeted floor. Egypt's president promised to respond with "brute force" to the attack.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Egypt's most active militant group, changed its name to Wilayat Sinai [Sinai Province] in 2014 after swearing allegiance to the Islamic State. Created in 2011 following the Egyptian uprisings, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM), also known as Ansar Jerusalem, also known as Supporters of Jerusalem, also known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdes, also known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, also known as Jamaat Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, also known as Jamaat Ansar Beit al-Maqdis fi Sinaa, also known as Supporters of the holy place, is responsible for attacks on Israel and security services and tourists in Egypt.
ABM shared some aspects of AQ ideology, but was not a formal AQ affiliate and generally maintained a local focus. Ansar Jerusalem evolved over time, its ties to al-Qaeda’s international network are getting stronger. Al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman Zawahiri, has repeatedly praised the group’s attacks. Ansar Jerusalem shares al-Qaeda’s ideology, employs al-Qaeda’s tactics, and routinely refers to and praises al-Qaeda’s leaders in its statements.
ABM was responsible for a July 2012 attack against a Sinai pipeline exporting gas to Israel. In August 2012, ABM claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on the southern Israeli city of Eilat, and in September 2012, ABM militants attacked an Israeli border patrol, killing one soldier and injuring another.
Militants in the Sinai have stepped up attacks on policemen and soldiers since then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sissi toppled President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013. The group’s operations expanded drastically after Mori was overthrown. The attacks initially targeted security forces in Sinai -- a remote but strategic part of Egypt located between Israel, the Gaza Strip and the Suez Canal -- but they have since extended their reach, with bombings on the mainland. The violence has hurt tourism, a pillar of the economy.
Since the July 3, 2013, coup d’etat, there have been many, hundreds, of terrorist attacks in the Sinai and a series of attacks in major population centers in the Nile Valley, including Ismailiyya, Mansoura, the Sharqiya governate, and Cairo. Ansar Bayt Al Maqdis is the primary al-Qaeda-affiliated group that has taken responsibility for those attacks, but other groups, including previously unknown — Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt) and Jund al Islam (Soldiers of Islam) - have also targeted the Egyptian state. Most ominously, in late July 2014 and again in early September 2013, an extremist organization called al-Furqan fired on ships in the Suez Canal.
In the Sinai Peninsula radicalized indigenous Bedouin Arabs, foreign fighters, and Palestinian militants from neighboring Gaza have formed terrorist cells and targeted both Egypt and Israel. Combating terrorism in the Peninsula is complicated by limitations Egypt faces in fully enforcing its rule over the area. The 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty caps the number of soldiers that Egypt can deploy in the Sinai, subject to the parties’ negotiated changes to Egyptian deployments as circumstances necessitate.
There is no known precise number of Islamist fighters operating in the Sinai, and according to the Congressional Research Service, estimates varied widely from 500 to perhaps as many as 5,000. Press reports describing Sinai-based militant groups name the following organizations: Al-Tawhid Wal Jihad, Mujahedeen Shura Council, Al Furqan Brigade, Ansar Bayt al Maqdis, Ansar al Jihad, Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt) and Jund al Islam (Soldiers of Islam). It is not known how many actual underlying separate organizations are operating using these names, which may each represent different undertakings, or may all be names for a single group. It is known that Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is also known as Ansar Jerusalem, Supporters of Jerusalem, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdes, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, Jamaat Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, Jamaat Ansar Beit al-Maqdis fi Sinaa, and Supporters of the Holy Place.
Observers have speculated that the Sinai Peninsula will or already has become a haven for foreign fighters intent on carrying out jihad. The Sinai is not yet an area of foreign jihadi activity. Like the low-level insurgency of the 1990s, however, the evidence suggests that violence in the Sinai is largely an Egyptian affair. Several al-Qaeda-inspired and/or al-Qaeda-linked groups operate in the Sinai. These include Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (Ansar Jerusalem), al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula (AQSP) and Ansar al Jihad, the Muhammad Jamal Network (MJN), the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC), Al Salafiya Al Jihadiya in Sinai (Salafi Jihadist Movement in the Sinai), and al Tawhid wal Jihad, among others. In addition, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has established a presence in the Sinai.
In October 2013, ABM claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing targeting the South Sinai Security Directorate in el Tor, which killed three people and injured more than 45. In January 2014, ABM successfully downed a military helicopter in a missile attack, killing five soldiers on board, and claimed responsibility for four attacks involving car bombs and hand grenades in Cairo, which left six people dead and over 70 wounded, many of them civilian bystanders.
ABM has also targeted government officials, including the September 2013 attempted assassination of the Egyptian Interior Minister, and the January 2014 assassination of the head of the Interior Minister’s technical office. In February 2014, ABM expanded its targets to include foreign tourists, and claimed responsibility for the bombing of a tour bus in the Sinai Peninsula, killing the Egyptian driver and three South Korean tourists.
The Department of State announced 09 April 2014 the designation of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act and as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity under section 1(b) of Executive Order (E.O.) 13224. The consequences of the FTO and E.O. 13224 designations include a prohibition against knowingly providing, or attempting or conspiring to provide, material support or resources to, or engaging in transactions with this organization, and the freezing of all property and interests in property of the organization that is in the United States, or come within the United States or the control of U.S. persons. The Department of State took these actions in consultation with the Departments of Justice and Treasury.
The Sinai militants were not believed to be officially linked to Islamic State insurgents. However, Egyptian intelligence officials said the group has influenced Egyptian militants who are based just over the Libyan border. The officials say the Libya-based fighters have also established contacts with Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for a massive terrorist attack on Egyptian army checkpoints on the Sinai Peninsula 01 July 2015, killing at least 64 soldiers. Egyptian military officials say security forces killed 100 militants during the day-long fighting. One top official said the attack was "unprecedented in the number of terrorists involved and the types of weapons they are using," including rocket-propelled grenades and car bombs. The fighting was concentrated near the town of Sheikh Zuweid. Egypt's Islamic State affiliate said 15 separate military checkpoints were targeted.
“The Egyptians are taking the fight to the Islamic State right now,” General Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters 19 May 2016. The US estimated the number of IS fighters there to be in the high hundreds — up to about 1,000. There also is a “sizable Bedouin insurgency” in the Sinai that has cooperated with IS fighters, the general added. The U.S. military has started to see connections between fighters in the Sinai, once viewed as an isolated force, and Islamic State militants across the Middle East. “We have seen a connection between the Islamic State in the Sinai and Raqqah,” Dunford told reporters. “We have seen communication between the Islamic State in the Sinai and the Islamic State in Libya and elsewhere, so we are watching that pretty closely.”
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, a terrorist group that pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), is responsible for the downing of the Russian A321 passenger jet over the Sinai Peninsula on October 31, the head of the CIA said on 16 June 2016. A group within the Sinai which used to be Ansar Beit al-Maqdis was basically consumed by IS “and we do attribute the downing of that Russian airliner to this group,” John Brennan said during a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The IS branch in the Sinai has become the “most active and capable terrorist group in all of Egypt,” attacking the country’s military and government targets in addition to foreigners and tourists, Brennan said.
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