ISIS Influencing Militant Groups in EgyptSeptember 9, 2014 in Egypt
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.”