On 8 September, Egypt’s Grand Mufti condemned the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), stating that their actions are “far from Islam.” The Grand Mufti’s announcement echoed those of leading Muslim institutions worldwide. Former Deputy Imam of al-Azhar, Sheikh Mahmoud Ashour, added that “there is no religion that accepts the killing of a human soul.”
The threat of ISIS is a concern for Egypt, as it is believed that ISIS has been ‘coaching’ militant groups in Egypt, who have over the last three years conducted a series of attacks in the Sinai Peninsula and in major cities in the nation.
An anonymous senior commander from militant group Sinai-based Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, has said that through internet communication, ISIS has “provided instructions on how to operate more effectively.” He added that while ISIS has not sent fighters or weapons, they have provided advice on carrying out operations, including creating cells of five people, where only one person from each cell makes contact with other cells. The commander also stated, “They are teaching us how to attack security forces, the element of surprise,” for example, suggesting that the groups plant bombs then wait 12 hours before detonating, “so that the man planting the device has enough time to escape from the town he is in.”
On 28 August, Ansar Beit al Maqdis released a video announcing that they had beheaded four Egyptians who they claim were providing intelligence to Mossad, the Israel intelligence agency. The militants claim that the intelligence was used by the Israelis to conduct an airstrike that killed three of their fighters. The victims were abducted by gunmen near Sheikh Zuweid near the Gaza Strip.
In the video, armed men wearing black masks are standing over kneeling captives as one of the militants reads out a statement. Following the statement, the men were decapitated. The chilling footage is similar to those released by ISIS following the beheadings of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
The connection between ISIS and Ansar Beit al Maqdis has been confirmed by Egyptian security officials who said, “Ansar and Islamic State definitely have ties but there are no Islamic State members in Egypt.” Security officials fear, however, that Egyptians militants who left the nation to fight in Syria may have joined ISIS, and could return home to wreak havoc in Egypt through fighting with the government or recruitment of new members. A potential influx of returning fighters could further stretch Egyptian security forces who have struggled with a series of militant bombings and shootings, in addition to a seemingly unending series of protests –sometimes violent– that have erupted since the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Worryingly, the Ansar Beit al Maqdis commander added that there were bombings in Egypt that had not been carried out by his group, and he believes there is a flow of militants in both directions across the Libyan border. Senior officials have expressed concerns that Libyan militants, who have also been inspired by Islamic State, may have forged ties with Ansar Beit al Maqdis, causing elevated threats on Egypt’s eastern and western borders.
In a statement released on 7 September, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has warned against foreign intervention in Libya, adding that Egypt does not want Libya to fall prey to terrorism. He called on international support for the incoming Libyan parliament.
While al Sisi has warned that Egypt would not hesitate to defend its national security, there is concern of how to deal with threats that are impacting the nation. Military engagement with militant groups in Libya could cause political backlash by both Egyptians and the international community, and result in a drain on the Egyptian economy, which has taken a severe blow since 2011. Egypt’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Amr Ramadan, has expressed his concern over the escalation of fighting in the region. As governments in the West are beginning to form a ‘coalition of the willing’ to fight the escalating threat of ISIS, it is believed that nations in the region that don’t normally cooperate are beginning to agree to work together to combat threats.
White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken has stated that Egypt is expected to join the coalition. If this is the case, the Egyptians will be working alongside Turkey; relations between the two countries deteriorated rapidly following the ouster of Morsi last year. However, Blinken added that Egypt, as well as other governments, will be likely to join because they are “starting to see the [ISIS] threat are the wolf at their door.”
On 30 June, the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS, a.k.a ISIL) declared a caliphate which spans from Aleppo in northwestern Syria to Diyala province in eastern Iraq. The group has also modified its name to “Islamic State” and has declared their leader, Abu Bakar al Baghdadi as its caliph. Baghdadi is now referred to as “khalīfah Ibrahim.”
Islamic State released a ten page announcement in Arabic, English, German, French, and Russian which defends the formation of a caliphate. The announcement declares that “the Islamic State has no [legal] constraint or excuse that can justify delaying or neglecting the establishment of the khilāfah (caliphate) such that it would not be sinful.” The statement explains that Baghdadi was chosen as caliph because he claims that he is a descendant of the prophet Muhammed (pbuh). Islamic State adds, “Thus, he is the imam and khalīfah for the Muslims everywhere” and have called on Muslims around the globe to pledge allegiance to him. Muslims around the world have expressed outrage as the declaration occurs during the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan.
ISIS also released two videos upon the announcement. Of note, the second video, “The End of Sykes-Picot,” shows a Chilean member of the Islamic State discussing the destruction of the border between Iraq and Syria. He speaks in English, and raises the flag of the Islamic State over the outpost.
Islamic State gained traction in June by taking control of large regions in northern Iraq and creating corridors into ISIS controlled parts of Syria. They were spurred on by the support of Sunni tribes in Iraq who were angry at their marginalization by the government, led by highly sectarian Shi’a leader, Nouri al Maliki. ISIS captured equipment and money in their blitzkrieg across the region, and even if the Iraqi government recaptures territory, it will be difficult to dislodge the spoils ISIS has gained, including its new fundraising networks and reputation, which now surpasses Al Qaeda in infamy. In fact, some analysts believe that AQ will experience a growing number of defections as militants move their allegiance to ISIS. Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP), for example, has made supportive and congratulatory statements on social media. ISIS has also recently released a new map showing a five-year-plan to grow their caliphate. The map shows plans to expand across north and central Africa to the west, and beyond India and Indonesia in the East.
Despite the group’s arrogance and ambition, analysts do not believe that the Islamic state is likely to remain in place. The erstwhile coalitions that ISIS had with Sunni Muslims in Iraq has eroded as the militants have killed members of the tribes or made tribal leaders into subordinates rather than partners. The Islamic State is also battling Iraqi soldiers who are intent on regaining captured territory, with heavy fighting occurring in Tikrit over the weekend. Russia has deployed military jets and experts to Iraq, and on Sunday evening, US President Barack Obama ordered additional deployments to Iraq, bringing the number of US troops in the region to 750, as well as sending “a detachment of helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles, which will bolster airfield and travel route security,” according to a statement. Iran has also agreed to send weaponry but will not send troops.
FAILED POLITICAL EFFORTS:
In an urgent effort to deal with the political marginalization that was the catalyst for the rapid growth of ISIS, Iraq’s new parliament convened on Tuesday morning, intent on creating a unity government to keep the country from splitting apart. However the first session ended early after 90 Sunni and Kurdish MPs walked out in protest during a 30-minute morning break. The speaker of the parliament declared, “We are going to postpone because of an urgent matter,” but he did reveal what the urgent matter was.
Iraqi president al-Maliki and his Shi’a-dominated government have been under pressure to be more inclusive of Iraq’s Sunni minority. US diplomats have stated that the US is unlikely to take military action against the Islamic State until a new unity government is created.
Meanwhile, fighting continues at an alarming rate. Violence in Iraq resulted in 2,417 deaths in June, according to the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq. In May, the number reached 799. Islamic State also appears to be targeting Shi’a shrines. On Monday, the group fired mortars at the Askari Shrine in Samarra as worshipers gathered to celebrate the first day of Ramadan. Six people were killed and minor damage was caused to the dome. Iraqi forces have been reinforced in the region to protect the site. The attack is likely to cause waves of retaliation, creating the sectarian war that ISIS had openly sought to create.