Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Radical Islamist groups in Egypt are claiming ties to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in a bid to secure funding and publicity, a senior Egyptian security official told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The Egyptian security official, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity because he is not permitted to speak to the media, played down the prospect of ISIS securing a foothold in the country’s Sinai Peninsula following last week’s attack on a border checkpoint by suspected Islamist gunmen.
In a statement distributed online via an ISIS-affiliated Twitter account, an Islamist group claiming to be ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed 22 Egyptian Border Guards at the military checkpoint along the Libyan–-Egyptian border.
The statement led to fears of that ISIS, which has recently announced the establishment of an Islamic State in territory under its control in Iraq and Syria, was infiltrating Egyptian territory. However Cairo has dismissed the claims that ISIS was behind the attack, with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi pledging to “uproot terrorism from every part of Egypt.”
The Egyptian official informed Asharq Al-Awsat that authorities had traced the ISIS Twitter account to a different Islamist terrorist group, the Sinai-based Ansar Bayit Al-Maqdis. The twitter account had previously been affiliated to Ansar Bayit Al-Maqdis, only to change its profile name and affiliation after ISIS announced an Islamic State in eastern Iraq and western Syria.
Ansar Beyit Al-Maqdis, which the Egyptian government has said is a front for the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood organization, has carried out a number of attacks on Egyptian security targets and infrastructure, including a failed assassination attempt against Egyptian Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim.
Despite an ISIS pledge to carry out “ambitious” plans in the Middle East and North Africa, Egyptian officials are playing down the possibility of the Islamist militant group finding a foothold in the country, citing strategic challenges.
“With ISIS fighters operating across a vast geographical area, spanning two fronts&8212;—Syria and Iraq——this does not allow it to consider infiltrating new areas at this time,” the Egyptian official told Asharq Al-Awsat.