The Sinai Islamist Insurgency


“If Egypt is unstable, then the entire region is unstable.”
– Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

 

                       Facts:

      Where:

               Sinai Peninsula, Middle East and                          North Africa Region (MENA)

      Population:

               1.4 million

      Deaths:

             1,000 security force members

             2,529 militants

             1,384 victims of extrajudicial killings

      Refugees/Displaced People:

               Approx. 40,000

      Arrests:

               An estimated 2,481 militants

      Combatants:

               1000-1500 Sinai Province militants

 

                 Overview

A rather tranquil and sparsely populated area for much of the 90s, the Sinai Peninsula has in recent times become a hotbed for insurgent activities since the 2011 ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The removal of his successor, Mohammad Morsi only served to worsen matters as Islamist insurgents have united under the umbrella of Wilayat Sinai, an ISIS affiliate in the peninsula. In the years since 2014, the group has both targeted and attacked security forces, politicians, and minorities (mainly the Coptic Christians). The authorities, it is safe to say, have struggled to contain this growing menace. The intensification of the group’s activities are largely attributed to a shift in ideology, and unprecedented access to both funds and weapons. The fact that North Sinai, where much of the fighting has taken place, is largely marginalised, has created a sense of disconnect among the locals—something which is seen as helping fuel a level of support for the militants there.

                 Key Actors:

  • Egyptian security forces/government/army – have struggled to tackle the insurgency due to policy and operational delays. Harsh reprisals, indiscriminate military operations and a failure to address the economic and political grievances of the locals are a few of the factors working against them at the moment
  • Bedouin inhabitants – long marginalized, politically and economically, they have found themselves caught between the insurgents and the government
  • Wilayat Sinai – ISIS affiliate and umbrella group responsible for much of the insurgent activity in Egypt which includes: suicide bombings, drive-by shootings, assassinations and beheadings. It aims to control the Sinai Peninsula, in order to turn it into an Islamist province run by ISIS
  • Israel – which shares a western border with Egypt is said to have been extensively helping Egypt in intelligence and the use of drones against Islamic State strongholds in the Sinai.
  • The United States – Egypt’s largest provider of foreign aid. Egypt has for decades been one of the US’ major military allies in the Middle East. Tensions did flare up a bit in 2017 when the US decided to withhold $195m in military aid due to repeated human rights violations. The amount in question represents a fraction of the $1 billion in military aid that Egypt continues to receive.

 

                                                 Timeline:

  • 1982 – Israeli withdrawal from most of Sinai peninsula—captured during the Six-day war between Egypt and Israel—amid increased Egyptian military deployment in the face of growing Islamist militant presence in the area
  • 1989 – Israel completes full handover of Sinai, ceding control of the border town of Taba to Egypt. Over the next decade the militants in the peninsula mostly use the area to train and hide
  • 2004 – Era of insurgent activity in the Sinai begins. A group called Tawhid wal Jihad (Monotheism and Jihad) ushers in this new period by carrying out a bomb attack at the Hilton Hotel in Taba, killing 30 people, most of them Israelis
  • 2005 – Tawhid wal Jihad escalates campaign of violence, killing 88 people in car bombings in Sharm el-Sheikh before killing 30 others in an attack on another resort in 2006. Following a government clampdown, most of them are either jailed or forced to go underground
  • 2006 – Tawhid wal Jihad continues its campaign of terror killing 30 people in an attack on a Sinai resort. Following a government clampdown, most of the group’s members are either jailed or forced to go underground
  • 2011 – following Arab uprising and the ousting of then-president Hosni Mubarak, a new militant group called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem) begins to take shape in Sinai
  • 2014 – Ansar Beit al-Maqdis group pledges allegiance to ISIS, changing its name to Wilayat Sinai (Sinai Province). That same year in 2014, the U.S. State Department designated the group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization
  • 2015 – Wilayat Sinai ‘acquires’ and holds a small piece of territory for the first time in the North Sinai
  • October, 2015 – Wilayat Sinai claims responsibility, after an explosion on a Russian Metrojet commercial plane kills all 224 passengers and crew who were on board.
  • 11 December,  2016 – a suicide bomb kills twenty-four Coptic Christians at a chapel in Cairo
  • April, 2016 – U.S. Moves more than 100 troops from Sinai Peninsula following a barrage of attacks by militants in the area
  • 4 August, 2016 – Abu Doaa al-Ansari, the head of Islamic State group branch in Sinai is killed during an air strike carried out jointly by the Egyptian air force and the anti-terrorism squad
  • 10 April, 2017 – President al-Sisi declares three-month state of emergency following attacks on Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria that killed at least forty-four people
  • 21 April, 2017 – Egyptian army is accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings after a leaked video appears to show Egyptian soldiers executing unarmed captives in the Sinai region. Human Rights Watch in a statement issued at the time, say that “Egypt’s counterterrorism campaign in the Sinai is out of control”
  • September, 2017Eighteen police officers are killed during an ambush carried out by ISIL fighters in Sinai
  • 24 November, 2017 – Egypt experiences the deadliest terror attack in its history—305 people were killed and 128 wounded—following a highly-coordinated attack on a Sufi-mosque in Bir al-Abd. Aside from being the second deadliest terror attack in the world in 2017, it also marked the first time the insurgents have targeted a mosque
  • 3 February, 2018 – A New York Times article reveals that for more than two years, Israel has been helping in the fight against insurgents in Sinai through covert air campaigns and more than 100 airstrikes in Egypt.
  • 11 February, 2018 – The Egyptian army claims it killed 16 jihadists during an operation titled “Comprehensive Operation Sinai”.
  • 27 February, 2018 – Three Egyptian soldiers are killed while fighting militants in the northern Sinai Peninsula.

 

                                        How You Can Help:

  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace – http://carnegieendowment.org/sada/68296

Latest posts by The Organization for World Peace (see all)