News / Middle East

Egypt's Military: Sinai Jihadist Attacks On The Decline

A damaged house in northern the northern Sinai where Egypt's military is battling Jihadists. Sept. 3, 2013.(AP Photo/AP Television)
A damaged house in northern the northern Sinai where Egypt's military is battling Jihadists. Sept. 3, 2013.(AP Photo/AP Television)
Egypt’s military which has been battling fledgling jihadist groups in the Sinai for months says the rate of terrorist attacks has declined in recent weeks, leading to optimism in army circles that security sweeps are having an effect, but some analysts question this and warn of burgeoning ties between Egyptian jihadists and al-Qaida.
 
“The rate of attacks in the Sinai is currently on the decline,” says David Barnett, who tracks Egyptian jihadists for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington DC-based think tank. “There have been about 200 attacks since the beginning of July, there were 104 that month, but last month we saw about 20.”
 
Egypt's army has been batteling jihadists in Sinai since 2004 when militants bombed parts of the Hilton hotel in Taba on the border with Israel, killing a dozen people.

But since the ouster on July 3 of Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first ever Islamist President, the army has increased its crackdown on jihadists, focusing on the Sinai Peninsula, the huge region of desert and mountains neighboring Israel's southwestern border, home to the strongest of the jihadi groups, the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, also known as Ansar Jerusalem.  The army is also targeting smaller urban-based groups such as al-Furqan brigades, which carried out two attacks on ships in the Suez Canal.
 
But Sinai residents including a local sheikh contacted via Skype argue the army’s campaign is indiscriminate. Fearful of being identified they declined to be named but warn that the harsh crackdown is helping jihadists to recruit. In September, the army jailed Ahmed Abu Draa, a Sinai-based journalist, for reporting on alleged military attacks on women, children, and a mosque.
 
Egyptian army on war footing in Sinai
 
The army offensive consisting of 20,000 troops and U.S.-supplied Apache attack helicopters amounts to the biggest deployment of the Egyptian military in the peninsula for decades. According to analyst Andrew McGregor of the Jamestown Foundation, an American think tank that monitors global terrorism, it “marks the greatest Egyptian military concentration in the region since the 1973 war with Israel.”

Egyptian military officials say they have captured or killed hundreds of jihadists. In August, Army spokesman Col. Ahmed Ali announced that security sweeps in the peninsula led to the deaths of 78 militants, and in September in a televised news conference he said the Egyptian military had gained the upper hand over the terrorists since Morsi’s ouster, saying the military had detained in all 309 “terrorists,” including 36 in July, 140 in August and 33 in September.

The military’s reports can’t be verified – media and rights groups are blocked from entering parts of the Sinai.

But even when taking the army’s claims of accomplishments at face value, Barnett cautions the military shouldn’t declare victory. “Ansar’s core members have not been arrested in the security sweeps in the Sinai and while their attacks have declined in number, they have grown in sophistication and are more strategic; and they have shown they can strike in Cairo and south Sinai, which if they continue with strikes there, they would destroy the tourist industry,” he said.
 
South Sinai is home to the country’s important Red Sea resorts.
 
Barnett and other analysts believe the jihadist challenge to Egypt’s new rulers is still in its early stages. “You have seen the jihadists develop their skills over time. At the beginning they were carrying out opportunistic shooting attacks but now you see them unleashing suicide attacks and huge car-bombings and this is a clear development of capability and strategy,” said Barnett.
 
U.S. concerns
 
During his visit to Egypt this week U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who sought to mend frayed relations between the Obama administration and Egypt’s military since Morsi’s ouster, talked of the need for the U.S. to continue to aid in Cairo’s counter-terrorism efforts.

A major concern for the U.S., say Obama officials, is evidence of growing transnational links between Ansar Jerusalem and other Egyptian jihadists and al-Qaida. In August the U.S. news site the Daily Beast reported that American intelligence had intercepted an Internet-based conference call between al-Qaida’s leader the Egyptian-born Ayman al Zawahiri and representatives of 20 jihadist groups including some from the Sinai Peninsula.
 
An Egyptian jihadist network set up by Mohamed Jamal al-Kashef, who was captured by Egyptian security forces a year ago, appears to be of the greatest American interest. U.S. officials say members of the network have been linked to the assault on the U.S. consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi a year ago that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.

In October the U.S. State Department named the Jamal Network and its founder as "specially designated global terrorists.” And the UN also designated last month the network as a terrorist group, saying in its designation notice: “Some of the attackers of the U.S. Mission in Benghazi on 11 September 2012 have been identified as associates of Muhammad Jamal.”

Barnett believes that while reports mount of foreign fighters joining Ansar Jerusalem, Syria is still the big draw for jihadists from across the Middle East, Europe and central Asia. But influential ideologues are speaking out on the Internet more about the jihad in Egypt and it may only be a matter of time before Ansar Jerusalem pledges allegiance to al-Qaida.
 
Says Barnett: “The difference will come when – or if – Egyptian jihadists get more outside assistance and training,”

You May Like

Sunni-Shi’ite Divide Threatens Middle East Stability

Analysts say ancient dispute that traces back to Islamic Revolution is fueling modern day unrest More

Shifting Demographics Lie Beneath Racial Tensions in Ferguson

As Missouri suburb morphed from majority white to majority black, observers say power structure remained static More

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Restriction is toughest since Soviet era, though critics reject move as patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid