ISIS and Wilayat Sinai
Complex networks of insurgency on Egypt's Sinai peninsula
The insurgency in Sinai has evolved over the past 15 years. Its stated goal shifted from supporting Palestinian armed groups in the early 2000s to controlling areas in northeast Sinai and fighting Egyptian security and military forces there. In 2014 the insurgent group Wilayat Sinai declared allegiance to ISIS. The Egyptian government’s counterinsurgency blunders and its humiliation and repression of the civilian population have helped give the insurgency ready access to a large pool of recruits.
“Give the good news to [Abu Baker] al-Baghdadi…. Give the good news to the caliph of the believers. Victory is coming. And we are your soldiers, God willing,” said a masked insurgent in a distinct north Sinai accent on October 24, 2014, after successfully destroying the military checkpoint of Karam al-Qawadi. (The speaker was probably Kamal Allam, one of the military commanders of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis/Wilayat Sinai [Supporters of Jerusalem/Sinai Province] from El-Arish City.) The insurgents had seized a large number of weapons after a twin attack on heavily armed military positions in Sheikh Zuweid and El-Arish. During fighting, they killed more than thirty soldiers, destroyed an American-made M-60 Patton Tank and an M-11 armored vehicle, and seized heavy mortars and heavy machine guns from the military. The masked commander’s video statement was the clearest indicator at the time that Egypt’s strongest armed organization – Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem, or ABM), which had spearheaded the insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula since early 2010 – was joining the organization Islamic State (ISIS). The latter had already declared a “caliphate” on June 29, 2014.
On November 10, 2014, the affiliation with ISIS became official. “The caliphate has been declared in Iraq and al-Sham [parts of the Levant], and the Muslims have chosen a caliph who is the grandson of the best of humans. If that is the case, we have no choice but to heed the invitation of God’s caller…. We therefore pledge religious-political loyalty to Caliph Ibrahim ibn Awad ibn Ibrahim al-Qurayshi al-Husayni.” That month, ABM changed its name to Wilayat Sinai (Sinai Province of the Islamic State, or WS).
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Omar Ashour (@DrOmarAshour on Twitter) is a senior lecturer in security studies at the University of Exeter (UK) and an associate fellow at Chatham House. His book The De-Radicalization of Jihadists: Transforming Armed Islamist Movements was published in 2009.