Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has expressed fear that Islamic State terrorists will flee to Egypt as the caliphate continues to crumble at the hands of the U.S.-led coalition in Syria and Iraq.
Speaking at a youth conference in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Sisi said that Egypt was in need of military equipment to prevent an influx of militants from unstable “neighboring countries” such as Libya, widely touted as a launchpad for the Islamic State’s resurgence following the group’s territorial losses in both Raqqa and Mosul.
“As the elimination of terrorists progresses in Syria and Iraq, those elements will move and resort to other regions with poor [security] conditions,” Sisi said. “There are already extremist militias moving into neighboring countries and Europe.”
“We must have the military capabilities that compensate for that imbalance in the region and to counter terrorism,” he continued.
Sisi’s comments also came hours after Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government forces announced that they had retaken al-Bukamal from the Islamic State.
Egypt has already become a hotbed for Islamic State terrorism in its Northern Sinai region, with Sisi declaring a three-month state of emergency in Egypt following twin church bombings that killed dozens of people.
Since 2014, the Egyptian government has spent over ten billion dollars on improving its military strength, including French-made Rafale fighter jets and helicopter carriers, MiG-29 fighter jets, assault helicopters from Russia, and submarines from Germany. Egypt currently receives $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid.
During a meeting in April, Sisi thanked President Donald Trump for his role in fighting the “satanic ideology” of the Islamic State and praising his “unique personality.”
“I’ve had a deep appreciation and admiration of your unique personality, especially as you are standing very strong in the counter-terrorism field to counter this satanic ideology that is claiming innocent lives, that is bringing devastation to communities and nations, and that is terrorizing innocent people,” he said. “You’ll find me supporting you very strongly and very earnestly in finding a solution to the problem of the century.”
The country’s Christian minority remains one of the Islamic State’s principal targets. The group described Christians in a propaganda video as their “favorite prey.”
Over the past year, the group has carried out two major attacks against Christian worshippers, together killing over 50 people and wounding dozens more. Thousands of Christians have consequently been forced to flee the region as the Islamic State ratchets up its levels of persecution.