Several sources have reported that on Sunday, August 30, Egyptian forces carried out two successful operations against Islamist militants in Sinai. In Al Arish, a city on the northern coast of Sinai, members of a joint police-military action killed Fayez Abdallah Hamdan Abu-Sheta, believed to be a leader of the terrorist group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM), thought responsible for the May 2013 kidnapping of 7 police officers and a border guard.
In a separate operation 32 miles away, in the town of Rafah, which borders Gaza, Egyptian forces killed 6 and arrested 10 others, Daily News Egypt reported. It has not yet been revealed? whether those killed or arrested are members of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, but this raid occurred three days after the Jihadi group released a very graphic video of the beheading of four Egyptians in Sinai for allegedly spying on behalf of Israel. The video is ?similar to that of U.S. journalist James Foley, whose beheading by ISIS on August 19, 2014, was also posted online.
While the world’s attention has been focused on the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and their aggressive sweep across Iraq and Syria, Egypt has been waging its own battle against violent jihadists, particularly in the Sinai. This is a conflict kindled under the Muslim Brotherhood leadership of Mohamed Morsi and which exploded with his ouster in July 2013. When the Muslim Brotherhood announced at a rally on May 1, 2012 that their candidate for president would be Mohammed Morsi, Egyptian Cleric Safwat Higazi declared the following in his impassioned speech to the crowd of thousands (broadcast on Al-Nas television and translated by MEMRI TV):
We can see how the dream of the Islamic Caliphate is being realized, Allah willing, by Dr. Muhammad Mursi, and his brothers, his supporters, and his political party. We can see how the great dream–shared by us all–that of the United States of the Arabs…the United States of the Arabs will be restored, Allah willing. The United States of the Arabs will be restored by this man and his supporters. The capital of the Caliphate–the capital of the United States of the Arabs–will be Jerusalem, Allah willing. Mursi will liberate Gaza….Our capital shall not be Cairo, Mecca or Medina. It shall be Jerusalem, Allah willing. Our cry shall be: ‘Millions of martyrs march toward Jerusalem.’ Banish the sleep from the eyes of all Jews. Come on, you lovers of martyrdom, you are all Hamas. Forget about the whole world, forget about all the conferences. Brandish your weapons…Say your prayers….And pray to the Lord.
As Thomas Joscelyn, senior editor of the Long War Journal, testified before Congress in February 2014, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in Egypt in January 2011, Al Qaeda and other violent jihadist groups saw an opportunity for proselytizing and rebuilding the ummah, or Muslim community of believers. Not only was the new government of Mohamed Morsi not going to crack down on jihadists, but he greatly aided their cause by releasing many of them from prison, including members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) and Gamaa Islamiyya (IG). Egypt became fertile ground for their activities, and the Sinai took on a particular importance because it was the perfect launching ground for renewed attacks on Israel. This suggests that there is also a strong correlation between the terrorism in the Sinai and the fighting in Gaza. The Muslim Brotherhood promised to free Gaza and to rebuild the Caliphate with Jerusalem as its capital.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which translates to “Champions of Jerusalem,” began operations in January 2011 with the uprisings that led to the overthrow of the Egyptian government. Initially, they targeted Israel. In July 2012, they blew up a pipeline that served Israel, calling it treason to send Egyptian resources to Israel, according to an article in Egypt News Daily. But following the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government on July 3, 2013, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis stepped up their attacks and directed the majority of them against the Egyptian police and military. Their near-daily attacks included the execution of 24 unarmed policemen on August 19, 2013, the attempted assassination of Interior Minister Muhammad Ibrahim in September 2013, an attack on South Sinai’s Security Directorate, and an attack on the military intelligence building in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya in October 2013.
The attacks by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis as well as other terrorist groups operating in the Sinai are explicitly carried out in retaliation for the Egyptian military’s role in helping to oust Mohammed Morsi and for their subsequent crackdown by military and police on groups engaging in violence. Indeed, the relationship between groups such as the violent Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and the “non-violent” Muslim Brotherhood may be more than ancillary. According to the BBC, some have identified Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis as the military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. Several different sources, including Nabil Naeem, founder of the Islamic Jihad, allege that Khairat al-Shater, the deputy supreme guide of the Brotherhood, directly supports Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis.