ISIS in Egypt: Can the Sisi regime maintain control?
With its alleged home base in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, which is adjacent to both Israel and the Gaza Strip, a militant group currently known as Wilayat Sinai (WS) and Islamic State–Sinai Province (IS-IP) continues to perpetrate terrorist attacks with far-reaching consequences. The group was formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM), and was active since 2011. It is specifically known as a Salafi jihadist group that intends to establish a state strictly grounded in the principles of Islam. ABM presented a greater threat following the ousting of the former Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak. As people in the region felt empowered by the fall of the regime, ABM drove security forces out of the area. Consequently, a power vacuum was unintentionally created in the Sinai Province, enabling ABM to gain a hold in the region.
During its time under the moniker Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, the group executed attacks against an Egyptian pipeline known to transport gas to Israel, and against Eliat, an Israeli resort town. In 2014, ABM pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) and correspondingly changed its name to Islamic State–Sinai Province to prove its loyalty. After this shift, the level of violence against Egyptian security forces appeared to have amplified. Though the current Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, is attempting to gain control of the situation through a military campaign in northern Sinai, his response to the situation comes only after IS-IP has already wrought havoc on Egypt. In terms of tactics, the IS-IP employs fast-paced warfare techniques similar to those used by IS offshoots in Syria and Iraq, according to Reuters.
Such efforts include roadside bombs, suicide bombs, and gunfire. They have been used to kill civilians and members of the Egyptian armed forces indiscriminately, leading the group to be known as “Egypt’s Most Dangerous Militant Group”. In the past, the group has killed more than a dozen soldiers in a given attack. More recently, attacks on civilians have also grown in scale. A very heinous attack inflicted upon predominantly Sufi Muslims at a mosque in Sinai left “at least 305” people dead and “128 others” wounded. According to the New York Times, the attack was doubly disturbing for Egyptians, not only due to large casualties, but also due to the fact that it took place in a mosque.
Prior to this assault, Christian churches were the primary targets of such attacks. This drastic change in both target and magnitude arguably demonstrates that the group has grown more brazen. While President Sisi has publicly stated that police and military forces would use “brute force” to triumph over the militant group, the situation suggests that this response will not yield results as rapidly as he might have hoped. Indicatively, Egypt has been under an official state of emergency since April 2017. This state of emergency had been renewed twice, first in July 2017, and then once more in October 2017, demonstrating a troubling truth: the threat posed by IS-IP, and perhaps similar militant groups, is still quite significant.