The Future of Terrorist Activities of Daesh in Sinai Peninsula

Dilemma of this study and its assumptions

Due to the sensitive geographical position of Sinai Peninsula and its proximity to the border with Israel, Egypt has been confronted with important obligations in the face of Daesh in Sinai Peninsula. Although this organization is stuck in an isolated area, it managed to launch terrorist attacks against Israel and Egypt. This has increased the danger of this organization and mitigated the chance for limiting its activities.

Headlines and objectives

  • Discussion of the origin and organogram of “Advocates of Jerusalem Organization, its development and conversion into Egyptian branch of Daesh
  • Shedding light on the efficiency of Advocates of Jerusalem Organization ever since it pledged allegiance to Daesh, identifying its funding sources and its military capabilities
  • Searching into the relationship between Daesh of Sinai with its equivalents in Libya, Iraq and Syria
  • Evaluation of the military operations of the Egyptian Army against Daesh in Sinai Peninsula
  • Identifying the potential scenarios for future of Daesh in Sinai Peninsula
  • Location of the study: Northeast of Egypt, Sinai Peninsula
  • Time covered by this study: beginning of “Advocate of Jerusalem Organization” in 2011 up to the present time

Introduction:

Military operations of the Egyptian Army are still ongoing against activities of terrorist organizations especially after the emergence of Daesh in Sinai Peninsula and pledging allegiance to it by many military groups that have been affiliated with Al Qaeda. Danger of this organization has moved to a rather sensitive area in North Africa near the border with Israel. Therefore, the potential risks of Daesh activities in this area will be relatively different from other risks of its activities in other Arab countries like Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Moreover, terrorist activities of Daesh in Sinai Peninsula constitute a privilege that enables Daesh to persist in a semi-desert area adjacent to the border where drug trafficking and human smuggling are very active. Security breakdown has increased in this area in the light of Israeli, Egyptian and Palestinian conflict of interests related to this area.

Anyway, anti-terrorist efforts are questionable in terms of efficiency and ability to exhaust Daesh, or at least mitigating its activities especially in the light of the economic situation of Egypt which negatively affects the abilities of Egyptian Army in Sinai Peninsula. Lack of coordination between Egypt and Israel has also affected the future of Daesh in Sinai Peninsula and made it open to many possibilities and options.

Pledging allegiance to Daesh and the evolution of Advocates of Jerusalem Organization

For a long time, terrorist groups have been active in Sinai Peninsula which witnessed many terrorist attacks against Egypt, Israel and Palestine. According to estimates of Israeli Intelligence System (Shabak), the first emergence of a Jihadi-Salafist group goes back as early as 1997 in Al Nasera in Palestine when Sheikh Nazem Abu Saleem Sakfah managed to spread Salafi thought and formed a group named “Advocates of Jerusalem” in his town, Al Nasera. The new group was joined by tens of members in Al Nasera and other towns of Palestine.

Apparently, “Advocates of Jerusalem Organization” first appeared in 1997, but its was neither active nor organized until 2004. On that same year, a group named “Global Islamic Group” attacked a hotel full of Israeli tourists in Sinai Peninsula. It was clear that the group was affiliated with the International Al Qaeda. Terrorist attacks continued with intervals and these attacks were claimed by different Jihadi groups like “Tawheed [1]and Jihad”

In 2011 Advocates of Jerusalem Organization declared itself in Sinai Peninsula when it detonated gas pipeline that carries Egyptian gas to Jordan and Israel. This attack benefited from the political vacuum that followed the collapse of Husni Mubarak’s Regime in Egypt. On 25th July 2011, Israeli Ministry of Defense classified this group as a banned terrorist organization.   

Advocates of Jerusalem Organization continued its activities until November 2014 when it pledged allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and Sham ISIS after Abu Baker Al Baghdadi had declared this Islamic State in Al Rakkah, East of Syria. It was a dramatic turning point in the structural organization of AJO. Immediately, Abu Musa’ab Ghareeb, a leader of AJO wrote a booklet entitled: “Come on to Sinai Al Sham to Establish your State”. In his booklet, which was published by ISIS media agency “Al Battar” Publishing Institution, Abu Musa’ab Al Ghareeb called for Jihad in Sinai as it is assumed to be part of Levant, the center of Caliphate of Islamic State. In April of that same year, the United States of America enlisted this organization as a terrorist group.

Daesh in Sinai, positioning, preparation and operations

Although the minimum estimate of number of AJO fighters in Sinai was 700-1000, some other estimates went up to 1000-1500 fighters, AJO fighter were active in launching attacks in a very sensitive area that is full of gas pipelines and military bases of the Egyptian Army in Al Areesh province of Egypt. This proficiency of AJO fighters was due to terrorists’ experience and their central leadership. Because of their knowledge of the desert and geographical details of the area they were able to launch anticipatory attacks against their targets. The following table shows the main terrorist attacks launched by AJO since mid-2014:

The following table shows the operational activities of Advocates of Jerusalem Organization ever since it was established end of 2017:

2018 2017 2016 2015 2014
On 3rd Jnauary, an explosive charge was exploded at a military checkpoint of the Egyptian Army in Bera’r Al Abed area. The attack caused the death of one officer of the Egyptian Army On 9th April, two terrorist explosions targeted Mar Jurjous Church in Tanta and another Church in Alexandria. These attacks killed tens of victims and tens were injured.  On 7th January, Daesh – Sinai Emirate, which was affiliated with Daesh declared the explosion of the main gas pipeline in Al Areesh city which provides gas to Jordan  11th January, few members of AJO kidnapped and Egyptian officer named Ayman Dasouki, website of AJO broadcast a video that showed the execution of the officer. That was on 26th of January 28th June. Rafah third massacre was done when members of AJO made an ambush and killed four conscripts while they were on their way back home to spend a vacation
On , 25th August, 4 Egyptian soldiers were killed in a military attack of Daesh on the coastal highway in Al Areesh On 7th July, the Egyptian Army reported the injury of its forces in attacks that targeted some bases of the Army in the northeast of Sinai. The attack was claimed responsibility On 30th June, Daesh assassinated a priest just when he was leaving the Church in Al Areesh 29th January, AJO attacked Battalion 101 and other security and military bases in Al Salam suburb of Al Areesh with few VIBDs and mortars. The attack killed about 20 conscripts On 24th October 2014, Advocates of Jerusalem Organization launched an attack against a security base in Karm Kawaleef with few VBIDs and rockets. The attack killed 31 officers and soldiers of the Egyptian Army
  On 21st of October, Daesh attacked Al Wahat area in Al Jezah. The attack caused the death of 55 Egyptian policemen On 24th November, 8 Egyptian soldiers were killed and ten other ones were injured in an attack on Gas Ambush area In April, about 14 Egyptian soldiers were killed in 3 attacks launched by AJO in the north of Sinai Peninsula 24th December 2014, AJO broadcast a video of two persons executed due to allegations of being agents for the Egyptian Army
  On 24th November, Fighters of Daesh broke in Al Rawdah Mosque, to the east of Bea’r Al Abed town in the north of Sinai and opened fire on people in the mosque. The attack killed about 300 persons in the mosque while they were saying their prayers. This is the biggest number of victims in the modern history of Egypt.   0n 10th of June, few rockets were fired on Al Jurrah airport in Sinai. This airport is used by UN Peace Keeping Forces  

As for the deployment in Sinai Emirate, most members of AJO are located in caves of Al Hallal Mountain, in Al Masurrah village in Rafah area, Kharubah, Al Sakasekah, wadi Al Akhdar (Green Valley) in Sheikh Zweid, Farms in Al Areesh, Um Shehan, middle of Sinai, Kharoum and Rweisat villages to the south of Sinai Peninsula. Most fighter of AJO are Egyptians, and Palestinians come next as they are 20-30% of the total number. There are also some Libyans and some African nationals. 

The efficiency of military operations facing activities of Sinai Emirate of AJO

Daesh in Sinai faces three antagonistic powers, Israel, Egypt and Hamas in Gaza Strip. Each party involved in the war against Daesh in Sinai approaches the war against Daesh from a different perspective and a private strategy and vision. Therefore, military operations against Daesh might not be effective or able to achieve the goals of this war. This failure is due to different strategies and approaches to this war against Daesh. 

As for the Egyptian Army, it started its military actions against Daesh in 2011 through a military operation named “The Eagle”. This operation was launched at the time of the ousted president of Egypt, Muhammed Morsey. This operation continued for a comparatively long time against Daesh in Sinai Peninsula. As a result, AJO was obliged to change its strategy and its structural organization to preserve its existence. This, among other reasons, compelled Daesh in Sinai to pledge allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and Sham ISIS.

Egyptian Army had to reconsider its strategy to move from fighting dispersed terrorist groups to fighting groups that are affiliated with an international terrorist organization which has got many branches throughout the World. Therefore, Egypt, led by Abdul Fatah Al Sesi launched a broad security operation end of 2014 to impose a buffer zone adjacent to Gaza Strip. This buffer zone, which extends for 500-meter-deep and 14-kilometer-long, is intended to anticipate any penetration or flow of terrorists. This operation was coordinated with Israel as Egypt is not allowed to deploy any military forces in Sinai Peninsula according to Camp David Accords. The number of Egyptian soldiers was specified, but at a  later stage, brigades 777 and 999 of the Egyptian Army were also allowed to work in Sinai Peninsula, mainly in Al Areesh and Rafah. Some other special forces and parachute men were assigned to take part in the military operation in Sinai. The United States of America, on its part, backed the operation with full support. Hamas leadership was not happy with the operation as it reinforced the isolation and siege of Gaza Strip. It was clear that involved parties looked at this operation from different perspectives.      

In 2015, Cairo started the second episode of the military operation and buffer zone strategy, which entailed the evacuation of Rafah border town. The town was completely demolished and new military bases were built instead. By doing so, the buffer zone was extended to 1000 meters in stead of 500 meters, and logistic supplies to Daesh were all terminated as these supplies used to arrive to Daesh through tunnels made for this purpose.

One year later, the Egyptian Army launched another military operation named: “The right of Martyr” in Sinai Peninsula and targeted some of the AJO fighters and demolished some of the tunnels connecting Gaza Strip with Sinai Peninsula. The operation was fully coordinated with Israel. During that operation, Abu Dua’a Al Ansari, a prominent leader of Daesh, was killed in an Egyptian air strike.

In 2017, the third episode of the buffer zone operations was declared, and it was extended up to 15 kilometers on the border with Gaza Strip. Despite the iron grip and stern procedures against Daesh, the activities of Daesh were not significantly aborted. On the contrary, Daesh operations remarkably increased in 2017.

Egyptian procedures against Daesh in Sinai Peninsula also included prosecutions of Daesh members. In 2018, an Egyptian court issued a legal memo in which it classified Daesh branch in Sinai as a terrorist group. Allegations were issued against about 300 convicts accused of affiliation with Daesh. Tribes living in Sinai Peninsula took the initiative to confront Daesh in the area and they formed “Sinai Movement” to support the Egyptian Army in the war against Daesh.

As for the Israeli procedures, Israel has been keen on preserving high level of coordination with the Egyptian Army, and has showed willingness to shoulder some of the burden of confronting Daesh. At the same time, Israel has been interested in utilizing this issue for exhausting Gaza Strip and the Egyptian Government simultaneously with launching more vigorous air strikes against Daesh in Sinai. Between 2015 and 2018, Israel launched about 100 air strikes in collaboration with the Egyptian side.

Hamas Movement in Gaza Strip has also been involved in the war against Daesh in Sinai Peninsula. It has carried out an extensive security campaign against Daesh and arrested many suspects. In 2017, Hamas targeted sleeping cells that were indulged in supporting Daesh in Sinai. Yet, Hamas has been facing Israeli accusations of helping Daesh through facilitation of arms access and other military stuff across tunnels. These accusations have caused disturbance to coordination by the three parties involved in the war against Daesh i.e. Israel, Egypt and Hamas administration.   

Possible scenarios for operations against Daesh and its destiny

After five years of fervent efforts to eliminate Deash and neutralize terrorist groups in Sinai Peninsula, many potentialities for the future of Daesh have popped out, especially after Daesh succeeded in establishing a network outside Sinai Peninsula like in Libya and other African countries. The most probable destinies are as follows:

  • Daesh might get into a state of weakness as military operations have succeeded in eliminating its abilities through wiping out sources of funding. This was done by Egyptian Army when it imposed a buffer zone at the border with Gaza Strip through the demolition of trafficking tunnels and smuggling networks that used to provide Daesh with logistic assistance.

However, this strategy has battered the infrastructure in the area as many houses have been knocked down and many residents in the area have been extradited, and Gaza Strip has been strangled with siege. The Egyptian Government efforts to eliminate Deash have been faced with two challenges represented in demographic problems, economic problems resulting from the buffer zone and political problems with Hamas. This is because such buffer zone will add to tense relationships with Hamas which is not preferred by Egypt at present. This will also impair negotiations between Hamas and Israel to completely settle disputes over Gaza Strip. Moreover, buffer zone strategy might compel Daesh in Sinai to more violence on the short run. Security measures might be lessened by process of time in the buffer zone due to pressure by Hamas. This might be exploited by Daesh again to resume its activities in the area.

  • Daesh might return to escalating its attacks. This scenario is likely to happen if more gaps in coordination among the three involved parties come up. Egypt’s disability to push negotiation between Hamas and Israel forward will be negatively affected. If negotiations retrogressed. This might also lead to military and political escalation similar to the recent one. If this happens, Egypt will be left alone in the arena to fight terrorism of Daesh, and therefore Daesh will take the chance to activate its operations. In short, the future of Daesh largely depends on the future of negotiations between Hamas and Israel.
  • Re-emergence of Daesh with different names and in different areas of South Egypt (Sa’aeed) is likely to happen as Daesh managed to establish more terrorist groups that are affiliated with Daesh in South Egypt and desert areas of the country. Having initiated communication means with Daesh of Libya will avail logistic paths and funding lines with Libyan groups especially after these groups moved to the north after its retreats. Consequently, it is very likely that Daesh in Libya and Egypt will work together as many prominent Egyptians played a key role in establishing Libyan version of Daesh. Hesham Al Ashmawi, an Egyptian, was arrested in Libya. He had been one of the most important wanted figure of Daesh due to his terrorist activities. In other word, Daesh might move to another area rather than Sinai Peninsula. This inclination was clear in 2015 when Daesh declared the establishment of Daesh in Southern Egypt, but Egyptian authorities managed to terminate these groups and bring them to justice. “Caliphate Soldiers” is a new organization that appeared in Cairo as a branch of Daesh in 2017.

Conclusion

All branches of Daesh are facing many difficulties to survive especially in Syria and Iraq. It is weaker than ever, but this doesn’t mean that it is dying away or unable to revive itself and gain the ability to resume its terrorist attacks. Even though their number is less, members of Daesh managed to launch attacks against sensitive targets in Egypt and killed hundreds of civilians. The remaining fighters of Daesh seem to have gained more experience and benefited from previous experience in Syria and Iraq after they had been chased or mandated by Daesh to take the lead of Egyptian version of this organization. The existence of Daesh in Sinai Peninsula is rather sensitive and dangerous than its existence in any other area of Egypt or Africa, so terminating it remains a big challenge.     


[1] This means “the oneness of God. It is the basic principle of Islamic belief that there is only one God i.e. Allah. It is related to theism.


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