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

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.