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Egypt
Anti-PKK/PYD cartoon, playing off the group's demand to free convicted terrorist Abdullah Ocalan while locking up its peaceful political foes
October 13, 2016

Egypt, Hamas and Islamic State’s Sinai Province

by
Henry Jackson Society

The latest policy paper from the Henry Jackson Society’s Centre from the New Middle East highlights the enduring threat posed by Islamic State’s Sinai province. As this paper reveals, with assistance from Hamas’s military wing in Gaza, Islamic State militants in the Sinai have been able to evade the Egyptian military. In mid-2000s we saw Jihadist elements in the Sinai have target western tourists at Red Sea resorts. A decade on it was Islamic State linked militants that carried out the bombing of the Russian passenger jet from Sharm el-Sheikh. That attack came the same year that an Islamic State directed cell carried out a series of high profile mass casualty attacks in Paris.

As this paper notes, the danger is that if the international community only focuses on destroying Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, then we could see a continuation and even an escalation of retaliatory attacks from IS groups in places like the Sinai. That is why the Western strategy for dealing with Islamic State must take a comprehensive look at also confronting IS in places like Libya and the Egyptian Sinai.

The areas covered by this paper include:

  • In November 2014 ABM broke off its ties with al-Qaeda, instead swearing allegiance to Islamic State and recognising al-Baghdadi as caliph. Following the group’s realignment with Islamic State, Wilayat Sinai considerably expanded the scale and ambitions of its operations. Despite determined counterinsurgency efforts on the part of the Egyptian military Wilayat Sinai continued to successfully execute a series of high-profile attacks in Egypt’s major cities, and in October 2015 the group secured international attention with the bombing of the Sharm el-Sheikh Russian passenger jet.
  • There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that Islamic State’s Sinai Province is collaborating with the military wing of Hamas in Gaza. Hamas figures are known to have crossed into the Sinai and are believed to be with Wilayat Sinai for training purposes. Senior figures associated with Wilayat Sinai have also travelled to Gaza, and a number of the group’s fighters are understood to have been brought into Gaza for medical assistance.
  • Since the summer of 2016 the Egyptian military have made some progress in degrading elements of Wilayat Sinai’s operational capabilities. Nevertheless, the risk of groups linked to Islamic State becoming resurgent in the Sinai remains a distinct possibility. If IS continues to lose ground in Iraq and Syria, we may see that organisation redoubling efforts to advance in other territories, certainly in Libya, but potentially also in the Sinai as well.

Tom Wilson, Research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society’s Centre for the New Middle East, commented “Islamic State’s branch in the Sinai has been one of the most overlooked elements in the war against ISIS, this has had devastating consequences, as seen with the downing of the Sharm el-Shaikh passenger jet. The Sinai remains an important base of operations for Islamic State and even if we see the eventual defeat of IS in Iraq and Syria, the group will continue to pose a threat the region as well as to the West and western civilians from the Sinai. One of the reasons why it is proving so difficult for the Egyptian military to defeat the militants is on account of the way that Hamas’s military wing appears to be sheltering the group’s members in Gaza, where they are safe beyond the reach of Egypt’s security forces. Nevertheless, failing to adequately address the challenge posed by Islamic State’s Sinai Province is likely to put western lives in danger in the coming years.”

Read the full paper here.