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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As the tumult in the Middle East distracts Obama, shifting American focus eastward appears threatened More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid