Event Summary: Terror in the Sinai

By

Co-written by Oscar Isham

Click here to view the event transcript

On Wednesday 7th May 2014, the Henry Jackson Society hosted Cairo-based journalist Mohannad Sabry and HJS research fellows Emily Dyer and Oren Kessler in the House of Commons for the launch of the report ‘Terror in the Sinai’, chaired by Jonathan Djanogly MP. Emily Dyer and Oren Kessler discussed four key aspects of their work and findings: the evolution of the threat; the presence of foreign fighters; a statistical analysis of attacks in the region; and the threat posed to Israel. Mr Sabry, who wrote the report’s foreword then gave his perspective on the wider socio-economic and political context within the region, and its implications for the situation in the Sinai.

The principal argument set forth by the panel was that the threat of terrorism emanating from the Sinai is on the rise, and that there are a myriad of contributing factors and explanations for this. The findings demonstrate that attacks that have their roots, either directly or indirectly, in the Sinai are growing in both number and severity. The report thus advises increased cognisance of these issues on the part of the global community.

Evolution of the threat

  • Mohamed Morsi’s removal from power in mid-2013 sparked a fifteen-fold increase in militant attacks. During the first three months of 2014, the rate of attacks has risen six-fold in comparison to the same period last year.
  • Attacks launched from the Sinai are becoming more organised and sophisticated, with groups increasingly using the peninsula as a launchpad to target the Egyptian mainland. Groups are also increasingly favouring al-Qaeda-style methods: so far in 2014, bombings have overtaken shootings as the most common type of attack (rising from 18% in 2013 to 54% during the first three months of 2014).
  • 20% of attacks attributed to groups active in the Sinai have taken place in Cairo this year (up from 2% in 2013). As 2014 progresses, bomb attacks are increasingly likely to take place in Cairo and other major cities in Egypt.

Foreign fighters, weapons and al-Qaeda ideology

  • Oren Kessler stated that “al-Qaeda presence in the Sinai is difficult to quantify with any real precision. What we can say is that there are strong indications that there are groups in the Peninsula that are al-Qaeda inspired”.
  • Militant groups in the Sinai appear to be increasingly adopting al-Qaeda ideology. There are also strong indications that al-Qaeda central (AQ), Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) are attempting to make inroads into the peninsula.
  • Individuals from Yemen, Somalia, the Sudan, Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Afghanistan are reported to have travelled to the Sinai in order to join armed groups.
  • Weapons are believed to be falling into the hands of militant groups in the Sinai through smuggling routes from Libya, the Sudan, the Gaza Strip and Iran. Moreover, Hamas reportedly operates warehouses, rocket-production facilities and factories in the peninsula.

Wider issues

  • Oren Kessler said, “officials have told me personally that intelligence cooperation between Israel and Egypt is at an unprecedented level; it’s never been better. Essentially both countries realise that they have a shared interest in a secure Sinai”.
  • Mohannad Sabry stated that below the surface in Egypt there is “a lot of poverty, crime, smuggling, trafficking, terrorism, radical ideology simmering. And the minute they found an opportunity to boil over, they did boil over”.
  • Many governments have failed to recognise that a purely security-focused approach to combating terror may be ineffective, as it fails to tackle the underlying causes of people’s grievances.

It is vital that the Egyptian government takes steps to improve relations with the Bedouin tribes in the Sinai. These groups are highly influential in the region and are potentially key information sources. The Bedouins can also serve as a link between the government and the population of the Sinai.

HJS



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