Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Following Sunday’s bloody attack on the Egyptian-Israeli border which resulted in the death of 16 border guards, Egyptian aircraft and troops carried out reciprocal strikes on Wednesday morning in an effort to rid the area of Islamic militants who aim to destroy the State of Israel.
The Sinai Peninsula is currently home to a number of armed Jihadi organisations, the most prominent of which is the “Al-Tawhid Wa Al-Jihad” group, which has called for the establishment of an Islamic Emirate in Sinai.
Since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s regime at the beginning of last year, groups of hard-line Islamists have attacked police stations and the pipeline via which Egypt exports gas to Israel. On a number of occasions, Tel Aviv has accused Cairo of having lost control over Sinai in the wake of the revolution of 25 January, 2011 and insists that Palestinian militias across the border in Gaza are engaging in armed activity with the intention of establishing further Jihadi organizations in the peninsula.
One of the most prominent groups in Sinai is “Al-Tawhid Wa Al-Jihad,” a Salafi group linked to Al-Qaeda which communicates with the Palestinian “Jaysh Al-Islam” in Gaza. Former Egyptian Interior Minister Habib Al-Adli accused “Jaysh Al-Islam” of being behind the bomb attack at al-Qiddissin Church in Alexandria which took place on New Year’s Eve, 2010.
The group, which was discovered in 2004, is often blamed for terrorist bomb attacks on Egyptian soil. These include Taba (2004), Sharm al-Sheikh (2005), Dahab (2006) and Al-Husayn (2009). Egyptian security forces have arrested dozens of the organization’s members, with a number of them receiving the death sentence.
Since 25 January 2011 many elements of the organization have returned in the form of terrorist operations. Last January they kidnapped 25 Chinese workers in the middle of Sinai, demanding the release of five of their members who had been detained and sentenced. Currently, 25 members of the organization are on trial on charges of establishing and administering the group, which considers the country’s leader an infidel and encourages dissent from him; as well as on charges of attacking the Armed Forces and killing seven people in armed attacks at Al-Arish last summer.
In August 2011, the group pledged to turn Sinai into an “arena fit for conflict with Israel.” In a statement released on the Internet, the group claimed: “The land of Egypt and Mount Sinai have entered a new stage in which they will be – God willing – the centre point of conflict with God’s enemies: the Jews and their lackeys.”
On 16 September 2011, Egyptian security forces discovered leaflets entitled “First and final warning” being distributed in the Sinai towns of Rafah and Sheikh Zuwayd by so-called “jihadi groups.” The leaflet says that the Takfiri and Jihadi groups in Sinai “declare Sinai an Islamist Emirate embracing customs and traditions derived from Islamic Sharia, and that there is no need for the presence of army and police forces in Sinai.”
Another organization which bases itself in Sinai is “Mujahidin Shura Council under the Auspices of Jerusalem,” which announced its presence in Sinai last July in a recording relayed on YouTube, with the aim of engaging in “a war of martyrdom against the Zionist enemy,” and “opening new jihadi fronts against it from Sinai.”
Days before the apparition of this particular organization, another group called “Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis [Supporters of Jerusalem]” claimed responsibility for one of the attacks which struck the Egyptian-Israeli pipeline. A video released by the organization detailed the different stages of planning which the group undertook in preparation for the attack.
Last June, another Islamist group in Sinai released a film to the internet in which it admitted its responsibility for a cross-border attack which resulted in the death of an Israeli citizen at a construction area dedicated to the new border barrier. In the film members of a new group called “Mujahidin Shura Council” appeared wearing military uniforms and could be seen selecting what seemed to be an Israeli security patrol and a town on the border as their target.